A Whimsical Look at Owls

Owls: Our Most Charming Bird, by Matt Sewell, (Ten Speed Press), 128 pages, 50 illustrations, release date 22 September, 2015

I’ve spent enough time watching on-line owl boxes to know a bit of their less darling side. They’re fierce predators. They swallow their prey whole, later coughing up a wad of bones and fur—all that’s left of the mouse or vole or gopher or bunny. A family of owls can go through upwards of 24 little mammals in a single evening, providing Dad’s a good hunter.

But to be honest, I am, nonetheless, charmed by owls. If you don’t look at things from the vole’s perspective, watching a pair of owlets tussle over the latest entrée can be almost heart-warming. The adults are nothing less than majestic (if their majesty is sometimes a bit oddly proportioned). The owlets go from wobbly, featherless mini-dinosaurs to fluffy mini-yetis wearing tutus and swiveling their heads in ways that seem impossible, and then somehow take on the majesty of their parents.

Sewell’s owls are most definitely charming. While his paintings aren’t realistic, they capture the essence of the different owl species: posture, head shape, coloring, definitive markings. If you know owls, you can see that he has a knack for capturing the gist of them. If you don’t know owls, you may want to work through his book with your laptop on, so you can pull up photographs to compare to his illustrations.

Sewell’s prose is crisp and good-natured, often humorous. Reading it adds to the fun, though just looking at the pictures is rewarding in itself. This is a book that will leave whimsical adults, budding birders, and the picture-book crowd, well, “charmed, I’m sure.”

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