The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar, Martin Windrow, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2014, 302 pages, bibliography, illustrations by Christa Hook.

Tawny Owls, birds of Great Britain larger than screech-owls and smaller than Barred Owls could be thought of as interesting but hardly common pets. Who wouldn’t want to get to know an owl up close and personal? And then again, how might that go?

British writer Martin Windrow kept such an owl, a Tawny that is better described as companion than pet. Windrow and Mumble, his name for the bird, lived together for 15 years. Mumble spent most of that time sharing, for at least the best part of each day, Windrow’s London apartment.

Mumble perched on Windrow’s shoulders, sometimes on his head, tore his newspaper to shreds as it was being read, groomed Windrow’s beard, nibbled at his ears, shared nuzzlings, and soiled his furniture.

The book combines the natural history of the bird as observed and interpreted from behavior in this domestic setting. Mumbles sometimes responds to the outer, natural world, when owl calls penetrate the apartment or a pigeon is seen through a window. Mostly, though, Mumbles expresses her owlness with fascinating behavior as an indoor bird.

Mumbles was raised by a breeder, never knowing freedom beyond walls. Well, except for twice when the owl managed to put itself outdoors, free to go, returning each time to what was familiar. The bird responded to its nature in unnatural conditions, giving the author and us insight into what the life or a wild bird might be. 

Windrow is a writer by profession, and a good one. This is not the sappy or sad story that tales of captive birds can be. You will know much about this individual owl and owls in general after reading of Windrow’s adventures. He shared his life in an unusual way, and shares that with us as an entertaining and informative read.

Mumbles dies at the end of the story, as birds of her age will do. Windrow misses her enormously. Readers will miss her, too.

The mention of Caesar in the title, by the way, refers to a plaster bust that Windrow kept in his apartment, a favorite roosting place for Mumbles when she wasn’t atop a door or exploring the cavities behind books on shelves.

 

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