The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar: Living with a Tawny Owl

Overview

The story of an odd couple—a British military historian and the Tawny Owl with whom he lived for fifteen years

Martin Windrow was a war historian with little experience with pets when he adopted an owl the size of a corncob. Adorable but with knife-sharp talons, Mumble became Windrow’s closest, if at times unpredictable, companion, first in a South London flat and later in the more owl-friendly Sussex countryside. In The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar, Windrow recalls...

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The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar: Living with a Tawny Owl

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Overview

The story of an odd couple—a British military historian and the Tawny Owl with whom he lived for fifteen years

Martin Windrow was a war historian with little experience with pets when he adopted an owl the size of a corncob. Adorable but with knife-sharp talons, Mumble became Windrow’s closest, if at times unpredictable, companion, first in a South London flat and later in the more owl-friendly Sussex countryside. In The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar, Windrow recalls with wry humor their finer moments as well as the reactions of incredulous neighbors, the awkwardness of buying Mumble unskinned rabbit at Harrods Food Hall, and the grievous sense of loss when Mumble nearly escapes.

     As Windrow writes: “Mumble was so much a part of my life in those days that the oddity of our relationship seldom occurred to me, and I only thought about it when faced with other people’s astonishment. When new acquaintances learned that they were talking to a book editor who shared a seventh-floor flat in a South London tower block with a Tawny Owl, some tended to edge away, rather thoughtfully . . . I tried to answer patiently, but I found it hard to come up with a short reply to the direct question ‘Yes, but . . . why?’; my best answer was simply ‘Why not?’”

     In the spirit of J. R. Ackerley’s My Dog Tulip, Windrow offers a poignant and unforgettable reminiscence of his charmed years with his improbable pet, as well as an unexpected education in the paleontology, zoology, and sociology of owls.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Liesl Schillinger
Anyone who thinks the bond between man and dog or cat is the supreme human-house pet attachment will have to reconsider after reading Martin Windrow's touching account of the bird who changed his life, a possessive and characterful tawny owl named Mumble who was his domestic companion for 15 action-packed years…[The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar is a] tribute to [Windrow's] grand avian attachment, which is all the more affecting because of its gruff understatement.
Publishers Weekly
03/17/2014
Historian Windrow (The French Foreign Legion) reminisces on 16 years living with “Mumble,” his pet tawny owl, and provides a scientific and historical background on the charming creatures. He covers the basic necessities of owl ownership: explaining building her enclosure, complete with “Double-Reciprocating Owl Valve”; diet; and dealing with “a fair amount of owl crap.”Drawing from diary entries, Windrow tracks Mumble’s developments like changes in calls and flight skills and the turmoil of molting season. Described as a “cat with wings,” Mumble has her flaws, including “unquenchable lust” for shoelaces, aggressive behavior with guests, and bringing “certain death to houseplants.” Windrow gives an anatomy lesson and outlines the tawny’s life in the wild—a harrowing battle for territory and prey that results in short life expectancy—as well as their nesting and fledgling process. In amusing anecdotes, Windrow recalls luring Mumble back inside in the middle of the night after an escape and later her disgruntled reaction to a wild suitor outside the apartment. While Windrow might have benefited from greater concision, this is a heartfelt and heartbreaking testament to humans’ love for their animal companions and the ways they enrich our lives. Photos and illus. Agent: Ian Drury, Sheil Land Associates. (June)
From the Publisher
"Anyone who thinks the bond between man and dog or cat is the supreme human-house pet attachment will have to reconsider after reading Martin Windrow’s touching account of the bird who changed his life, a possessive and characterful tawny owl named Mumble who was his domestic companion for 15 action-packed years . . . [The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar is] a memoir of his friendship with this singular creature, interwoven with a natural history of her species and a close, not to say obsessive, description of her traits . . . [It] is all the more affecting because of its gruff understatement." —Liesl Schillinger, The New York Times Book Review

"Charming . . . an eloquent yet unsentimental testimonial about a man devoted to his "one true owl", and the profound impact that relationship with this bird had on his life." —The Guardian

"Unlikely books are often very endearing—this is one such book. An utterly charming work, perhaps best read at night when there are owls about." —Alexander McCall Smith, author of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series

"The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar is pure joy. Martin Windrow shows us the essence of a wild animal in a story as informative as a scientific paper on the species Strix aluco, but much more fun to read. Owls are among the world’s most interesting creatures, and to see one up close and in detail as we do here is a valuable experience that will appeal to readers of every kind." —Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author of A Million Years with You: A Memoir of Life Observed

"With a keen eye for the telling detail, Windrow has written an informative, tender and, yes, wise memoir on the blessed ties that bind people and their pets—one that should find a permanent perch on your shelf." —Jay Strafford, Richmond Times-Dispatch

"Funny, touching and divertingly novel . . . [Windrow] has produced an homage to both a creature and its species that is almost Leonardo-like in its precision and spirit of curiosity. The result is nothing less than a small masterpiece of animal literature . . . [A] perfect book." —Ben Downing, The Wall Street Journal

"Charming . . . Mr. Windrow’s owl fascination knows no bounds." Carmela Ciuraru, The New York Times

Kirkus Reviews
2014-05-06
The life of a man and his feathered friend.Though owls are not common pets, Osprey Publishing military editor Windrow (Our Friends Beneath the Sands, 2012, etc.) developed a 15-year friendship with a tawny owl that lived in his apartment. Needing a companion after a sky diving accident, the author first tried a little owl; however, this bird escaped, so he tried a tawny owl. Right from the start, Mumble, as Windrow called his female tawny, proved to be the perfect friend. Using notes and photographs from their time together, the author intertwines anecdotes of living in a small apartment with a bird the size of a loaf of bread with the evolution, zoology and social life of owls, providing readers with lots of information not normally found outside of bird identification books. One favorite experience Windrow remembers fondly is how Mumble loved to snuggle into his neck after his shower. "Her head and neck smelt delicious—clean, warm, wooly, and sort of…biscuit," he writes. "If I stopped nuzzling her for even a moment she squeaked insistently, shoving her face upwards. She loved it when I rubbed the close triangle of short feathers immediately above her beak and between her eyes." Due to his desire for this friendship, Windrow was willing to cover the apartment with plastic and newspapers for the inevitable "strongly acidic, foul-smelling brown-and-white sludge" and provide whole baby chicks for Mumble's food, which she tore at with great pleasure—such eccentricities made the author's friends question his sensibilities. Rich in minutiae enveloped by a sense of fondness for this affectionate bird, Windrow's tale is unusual and endearing and takes the idea of an animal/human friendship to new heights.Delightful and informative reminiscences of one man's life with his pet owl.
Library Journal
★ 04/01/2014
In 1977, British military historian Windrow (series editor, Osprey Publishing; The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam) acquired a tawny owl, a raptor roughly the size of a bread loaf. It didn't work out; the bird, probably too old to adjust to his new life, escaped. Windrow was almost relieved, yet yearned to try again. The next year the author acquired a domestically bred hatchling, young enough to bond. Thus began a 15-year relationship during which Windrow learned as much about himself as he did about the bird, whom he named Mumble. Mumble turned out to be more of a companion than expected. In many ways, Windrow observed, Mumble was like a cat with wings—but her diet was dead chicks eaten raw and she relieved herself on everything. It took the author 20 years after Mumble's death to write this book; readers will be glad that he did. There's a lot of quiet humor here but it's the scientific knowledge about tawny owls and Windrow's affectionate descriptions of Mumble's (and his own) daily life that make the title a gem. The line drawings in ink by Christa Hook are delightful. VERDICT This treasure of a text will delight animal and pet lovers of all kinds, and is recommended to readers of memoirs as well.—David Keymer, Modesto, CA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374228460
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 6/10/2014
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 42,591
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.60 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Martin Windrow is an English military historian and a long-time commissioning and art editor for Osprey Publishing. He is the author of numerous books of military history, including The Last Valley, a distinguished history of the French defeat in Vietnam. He lives in the Sussex Downs country of southern England.

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