Introducing O.W.L.S.

We’re excited to announce the Ornithological Waterstones Landing Service, a brand new way to receive your favourite books.

O.W.L.S. consists of a fleet of specially trained owls that, either working individually or as an adorable team, will be able to deliver your package within thirty minutes of you placing your order.

Watch our Press Manager Jon Owls introduce the O.W.L.S. project.



Putting O.W.L.S. into commercial use will take a number of years as it takes ages to train owls to do anything and we only just thought of it this morning.


Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Isn’t this just what they did in Harry Potter?

A: Yes, this is exactly what they did in Harry Potter. You’re asking that as if this is a bad thing.

Q: Won’t this be really expensive?

A: No, it’ll only cost you £2.75 per parcel. (Price subject to inflation between now and the as yet undisclosed point in the future when we will launch the service.)

Owls pricing

Q: Will we one day see a fleet of Waterstones’ owls in the sky?

A: Yes! And it’s going to be amazing.


Q: Will the owls be treated humanely?

A: Yes! Our owls will be loved by specially trained booksellers who will regularly feed the owls with love, affection and mice.


Q: Isn’t this how Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds began?

A: The Birds is fiction, this is the real world. Everything will be fine.


Q: But aren’t you worried about the owls developing intelligence and using the knowledge of our home addresses to enact some sort of sky-based revenge? Enslaving us all to deliver their internet orders to their nests?

A: No, the laws of robotics means that this can never happen. The owls will be incapable of harming a human.


Q: But owls aren’t robots, they’re birds.

A: That’s the end of the questions, thank you.


While you’re waiting for O.W.L.S. to be launched – why not take advantage of our Reserve & Collect service which lets you choose a book online and pick it up at your local Waterstones bookshop.


169 thoughts on “Introducing O.W.L.S.

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  2. I’m concerned with the purchase being “soiled” by the birds or discarded in favor of a Gerald the tasty field mouse. What guarantees are you offering for early adopters?

      • Jack, do you work for Amazon? looking at your comments you do have to wonder. This is a joke, it’s supposed to be a bit of fun. you know fun? Like the reviews of the Mr Men books on the aforementioned tax dodgers website. I find it odd that someone who appears to have a problem with Waterstones is on their website, let alone posting on their blog?

  3. Given the owls’ nocturnal nature, will you be changing your shipping policy to “Order before 3am for same day delivery”?

    • The use of Snowy Owls in winter is still being discussed. It boils down to a safety issue, namely how visible will our Snowy Owls be should we have a white Christmas? Particularly if they’re carrying a copy of Quiet by Susan Cain ( – which has an all white cover. A potential disaster right there. We’ll let you know.

      • You could give them little reflective jackets. You know, those Hi-Vis ones. Think of the little O.W.L.S. you could sell off the counter with those on. They could even have names. Barnstone Owl. Snowstone Owl. And the interchangeable One Direction Hi-Viz jackets they would inevitably require when the Christmas Annual is out. But we’ll stop, we’re in danger of droning on for too long… ;-)

  4. What will happen to these owls once they retire? Where will
    they go? Is there some sort of pension in place? What about an OAO (Old Age Owl
    (obviously)) home for them to go to? What sort of activities can they partake
    in? I’m worried.

    • Don’t worry, there will be an extensive pension plan in place for the owls. As well as books, Waterstones is known for its beautiful retirement aviaries where birds can relax into old age with their friends.

  5. Will the O.W.L.S operatives be themed according to the genre of the book they are delivering? For example, my books are known for their sparkly covers. Are there plans to introduce a custom sparkly O.W.L.S service, particularly during the Christmas rush?

  6. HAHA.
    Oh god. This made me chuckle.
    ‘but birds aren’t robots, they’re birds’
    ‘that’s the end of the questions, thank you.’
    For god’s sake. British humour’s the best.

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    • If it’s still in print by the time we launch, we’ll be glad to fulfil your order. Though when we mentioned it to the owls they did pull a face which implied they thought you were taking the mickey out of them…

      • Please assure the owls that I meant no sarcasm in that request. It’s a wonderful book, and I thought that Owl-related literature might encourage them in their training. Please don’t encourage them to poop on my head while I wait outside for my delivery…..

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    • Though it’s difficult to be able to promise substantial discounts in the current financial climate, we’re working on a loyalty scheme for O.W.L.S. involving the exchange of pellets for “petting time” with the owls.

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    • We are going to be teaching the O.W.L.S. basic reading skills – how else could they pick the right book off the shelves to deliver it to you? – but haven’t found a solution that allows them to write yet.

      It’s not that owls aren’t passionate readers with firm and fully formed opinions on the books they love. It’s just that so far our attempts to teach them to write have been less than successful.

      It turns out that our owls are rubbish at holding pens; they tend to eat pencils; and they’ve smashed the screens of six iPads with their claws.

      Hope springs eternal however and we’re planning on bringing in a linguist to help them develop speech. Imagine that: talking owls. An insane dream perhaps, but they said that about using owls to deliver books. Who’s laughing now, huh?

      • You could create a little helmet that captures their neural patterns. I am sure a quantum computer could be borrowed to make use of the flashy lights and eventually you could have DIRECT THOUGHT CONTACT!

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  17. AS much as I love this idea unless if I can be promised a snowy owl year round, I am not sure this will work. Can you promise me a snowy owl? Also what happens if my parcel is lost in the ocean since I live stateside?

    • We’ve been doing some research. Apparently, there have only ever been 166 sightings of wild Snowy Owls in the UK. Yes, that few.

      That makes our original suggestion of using Snowy Owls in winter somewhat unlikely, we fear.

      They’re native to Norway though. So, you could move there. They have a pretty flag too. And other things. We just can’t think of what the other things are right now.

  18. Absolutely superb come back there Waterstones – well done!! I’m still amazed so many people took the whole Amazon drone thing seriously and didn’t see it as a blatant PR stunt. Waterstones showing they have a sense of humour is a great counter move :)

  19. This just makes Waterstones look like sore losers. Amazon are innovating the industry – catch up or go under! The time spent sat around messing about making this video could have been spent thinking about how Waterstones is going to survive over the next 10 years.

      • I am all for the old fashioned way of doing things. But when ‘professionals’ do this in response to competition it really gets on my nerves. There reason for doing this is because amazon is there arch enemy. But why is this? All Amazon have done is improve the consumer experience and, if anything, widened the availability of books to those who may have not been able to afford them from high street retailers or been able to move around due to age or disability and therefore not reach the high street. Furthermore, think of the opportunities this opens for businesses in online retailing. I say, keep up or don’t bother – no matter how traditional you are it all comes down to the cream scraped off the top, you can still get that cream though your traditional image sells; however it evidently doesn’t looking at Waterstone’s financial accounts.

        • if Waterstones goes under, just where are we supposed to go to flick through books…which we then go and buy on Amazon…?! ahem. seriously though?!

        • Personally, I would much rather buy books from a company with a sense of humour and a genuine love of words than a faceless, money-grabbing entity that doesn’t care about books or authors. Therefore Waterstones gets my vote and I’m more encouraged to buy books there by blogs like these.

        • Do you in fact understand the concept of a “joke”? It’s a fairly well established idea – there’s a surviving gag book from ancient Rome. Perhaps you need to keep up or not bother.

          [HINT: This is NOT Waterstones' commercial response to Amazon's concept for delivering goods by quadcopter.]

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  23. Issues regarding trainee owls’ ability to write should be addressed to Christopher Robin’s Wol who as we all know could at least spell, after a fashion

  24. Just a tip from a fellow owl trainer, They are much more highly promiscuous than you would expect and can easily get distracted from basic tasks when seeing the opposite gender. I suggest you keep deliveries for rainy days as this would be much more successful. The owls don’t mind the rain as such but they do know when its too wet to woo.

  25. Will you be teaching the O.W.L.S a form of self-defence like krav maga? I’d really like to order the new Bridget Jones but worry someone will try to steal my delivery and end up injuring the bird.

  26. FYI if any of the owls try committing premeditated homicide of a mouse whilst on duty, the most humane way of dismissal will be firing squad… just FYI

      • If you watch the above video it shows why Waterstones are falling behind and Amazon continue to grow, profitably. The key is efficiency. I do understand what Waterstones are trying to do here – they are mocking Amazon’s efforts. (The video above isn’t just about Amazon PrimeAir)

          • The initial cost doesn’t effect efficiency though; the initial cost pays for itself over time, and how much do you think the maintenance cost of a drone is compared to a truck and trailer? I know for a fact that trucks (and heavy vehicles in general) are increasingly becoming money pits of maintenance costs. Its the cost per delivery for example that determines efficiency. The operational cost of a drone is a lot less than conventional transportation. Think of the weight of a truck, divided its weight by the number of packages it transports and then work out how much weight must be shifted in order to deliver that one package. I am sure the it would be more than the weight of a drone.

            Also consider this: fossil fuels are depleting so this is a long-term solution to a constantly increasing-in-cost method of transport – road.

          • You seem to be overlooking the point that it’s unlikely we’ll ever see the majority of packages delivered by Drone, so companies like Amazon will still be reliant on a large fleet of trucks with the attendant problems in order to manage the majority of their day-to-day operations. Not even the most optimistic Amazon spokesperson is talking about them shipping everything by drone; among other things these drones will only have an operational radius around 10 miles from a warehouse, and their maximum carrying capacity means they cannot shift at least 14% of Amazon’s deliveries.

            That aside, are you really suggesting that trucks using diesel engines – nothing if not a robust and well-understood technology – are going to be less maintenance-intensive than a huge fleet of small, delicate and highly advanced drones? If nothing else it’s going to take a drone a notable amount of time between flights just to recharge its batteries, compared to only occasionally needing to refuel a truck, and doing so simply by pumping diesel into a tank.

            It’s also worth noting that drones are extremely inefficient – a truck can easily carry 2x its own weight in parcels comprising lots of individual deliveries, and make those in the course of a single delivery run. In contrast there aren’t any published specs for Amazon’s Octodrone, but both speculative estimates ( in particular) and other drones using a similar design tend to imply the drone would actually weigh about twice as much as its package. Even worse for efficiency, these drones will only take a single package at a time and have to return to the warehouse after each delivery.

            If Amazon ever get a drone service off the ground (pun intended) – which isn’t a given, since they need to get FAA regulation for civilian drone use as well as equivalent for other countries’ air traffic control, invest in a fleet of drones and facilities to maintain them and actually come up with a protocol for deliveries that won’t accidentally shred pets or children with their rotors – then it will serve a niche for extremely rapid delivery, but that’s all.

  27. any books I buy for Christmas presents will now all come from Waterstones. You have to love a company that has an imagination and a sense of humour.

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  29. A truly charming and utterly British idea. Much more sensible. They should implement this in America because we all know how understanding people are in the USA about anything flying over their property. It’s not like anyone would shoot down an Owl just to steal its cargo or sue anyone because an Owl crashed onto their house or car.

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  31. Will the owls be able to deliver trans-Atlantically? I live in the U.S., I prefer to read the British editions of books written by British authors (honestly, if generations of children have been able to work out that Edmund’s left-behind torch is what we call a “flashlight,” I think American children could have understood that a “jumper” is a knitted pullover worn over a shirt without that being translated), and I like owls. I can get some locally-sourced mice to feed them before they start the trip back.

  32. I loved this I want to get all my books from Waterstones when this service is launched. Will you have any Transatlantic Owls? I live in Vancouver.

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  38. I’m training my dog to catch books and bring them to me because I don’t like going outside. Do I need to sign for the delivery? Or does the book just get dropped off? It might take a while to train my dog to match my handwriting.

  39. Can you add those little air flutes on their tales, as people often do with pigeons? (Yes, I realize that owls are not pigeons.) (I also realize this is a joke, a very nice one too.)

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  42. Can you confirm that your delivery Owls will be easily identified as such? I’m worried that on busy days in cities with high rise buildings, they may be mistaken for Owl Queda airborne operatives and brought down!

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  52. Hang on a minute.

    The members and I Believe that
    some crucial questions remain unanswered prior to the implementation of
    the O.W.L.S delivery system.

    Point 1:

    How will the O.W.L.S effect the job security of those currently employed in the delivery of said parcels and sundries and what compensation package has been envisaged on their behalf.

    Point 2:

    The question of employment rates for the O.W.L.S themselves is a largely unanswered question and what benefits would they receive from the company. There are things like travel allowance, weather allowance and numerous other
    costs that need to be addressed in an overall employment package.

    Might I gallantly put myself forward to act on behalf of the O.W.L.S in the
    negotiation of said package all the O.W.L.S need do is pay the nominal
    members fee and if an O.W.L.S representative could contact me we can proceed with presenting our demands to the management.


    Postal Workers Union

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