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More drama than ‘The Bachelor:’ Amateur naturalist Mark Glenshaw on the habits of Forest Park owls

Charles and Samantha, the new "it" couple from the community of Great Horned Owls in Forest Park.
Mark Glenshaw | Forest Park Owls
Charles and Samantha, the new "it" couple from the community of Great Horned Owls in Forest Park.

“The Bachelor” has returned to the airwaves this week but even that reality television show would be hard pressed to measure up to the level of drama, intrigue and flirtation found among a community of Great Horned Owls that make their home in Forest Park.

Mark Glenshaw has been observing the lotharios and seductresses of the owl community for the past 11 years in Forest Park. He describes this year’s owl happenings as more dramatic than most.

For starters, Charles, an owl that Glenshaw named and has followed closely for the past years has split  from Olivia — an owl he mated with during the winter of 2015-2016 after his long-time mate, Sarah, died in July 2015. 

According to Glenshaw, even though Olivia and Charles mated for 14 weeks (far outpacing the normal season of 4-6 weeks), they never produced owlets or proceeded to the nesting stage of the relationship.

In April 2016, Samantha (a name Glenshaw gave the owl based on the adventurous character from “Sex and the City”) pushed her way into Olivia’s territory: she perched on Olivia and Charles’ perches.

“Imagine going home tonight and someone’s sitting in your living room and twirling your glass saying ‘can I get some more ice for my drink?’ that’s how she did it,” said Glenshaw. “They had a massive territorial standoff.”

Charles and Olivia attempted to push her out, but eventually Olivia gave up on the match and hasn’t been seen since. Ten days after she left, Charles started to court Samantha, hooting a flirtatious tune, showing off acrobatic sky dives and bringing her food.

But all was not well in the world of the owls!

All through the fall and winter, Charles and Samantha courted but never sealed the deal. Glenshaw was certain the two would have a falling out.

And then, last night, the two finally mated. An official relationship is born.

Mark Glenshaw has been observing the owls of Forest Park for the past 11 years.
Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
Mark Glenshaw has been observing the owls of Forest Park for the past 11 years.

As far as Glenshaw can tell, Charles and Samantha make up two of a population of 8-12 Great Horned Owls and Barred Owls in Forest Park.

Renowned for their adaptability, you can find Great Horned Owls across the St. Louis area during all seasons. Glenshaw is most concerned about cars when it comes to owls’ safety because they are also remarkably adaptable to human activity.

They are also renowned for having the widest range of prey: anything from ground insects to raccoons, swans and wild turkeys. 

Glenshaw observes the owls anywhere from five to six nights a week and says it started as a way to get to know the park he lived next to much better. Last year, he led over 70 “Owl Prowls” through the park and frequently updates his blog about the comings and goings of the owls in Forest Park. You can find that blog and information on upcoming “owl prowls” here.

Glenshaw also leads introductory birding walks on the first Saturday morning of each month in Forest Park.  Birding, or bird watching, is an observatory sport that is gaining popularity, he said.

“Some people have taken it in a competitive way,” Glenshaw said.” Other people are really just coming to realize ‘hey, this is quite interesting.’ One thing, as I reflect on my own work and see its impact on others, I think we all want to connect more with nature. It is in our nature.”  

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.