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Catching Up With Forest Park’s Great Horned Owl Charles

Charles and the full moon on February 8, 2020.
Mark Glenshaw

In early March, Mark Glenshaw joined host Sarah Fenske on St. Louis on the Air to discuss his obsession with owls. On Monday’s show, Glenshaw returned to give an update on his favorite great horned owl, Charles. 

During the conversation, he detailed Charles’ relationship with another owl, Danielle. 

Up until the past few weeks, it was thought that Charles and Danielle’s relationship may have worked out. But now Glenshaw’s sense is that Danielle may have left Charles, as he hasn’t seen the female bird since last month. 

“[Charles and Danielle] did revisit the nest sites a few times in February and early March, and that was it. … It became pretty clear, pretty quickly, that it was a slight chance [they’d reunite], and that’s not going to happen,” he said.

One particular thing that surprised Glenshaw on a recent venture in Forest Park: Charles was grooming himself with a feather.

Glenshaw described the event as something he hasn’t seen in the 14 years he has studied the bird.

Mark Glenshaw is a naturalist who keeps track of a mated pair of Great Horned Owls in Forest Park.
Credit Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio
Naturalist Mark Glenshaw joined Monday's show.

“I’ve never seen any bird do it,” Glenshaw said. “I was watching Charles wake up, and he was starting to stretch and groom as he does, and I turned my head away for a moment. As soon as I turned my head back, the next thing I knew, he had a very large feather of his in his talons. He was using the end of the feather to clean his bill — his mouth.”

Upon witnessing this, Glenshaw started to scour sources to find an answer as to why the owl was grooming himself with his own feather. 

When he couldn’t find an answer, he reached out to experts for an explanation, and they told him they’ve seen captive owls groom themselves with their own feathers. “To see it out in the wild is quite unique, special and so forth,” Glenshaw said. “I was more excited once I heard that.”


Now unable to have group “owl prowls” due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Glenshaw said he’s still able to show residents Charles by running what he calls an “owl ambassadorship.” It gives people a chance to see the bird while maintaining social distancing.

“That’s been a great pressure-release thing … I’m still able to do owl ambassadorship in person, in Forest Park,” Glenshaw said.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Joshua Phelps. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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