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Sorry, ladies. Forest Park’s famous great horned owl, Charles, has found a new mate

Charles the great horned owl
Daria McKelvey
Charles the great horned owl does an “escalator stretch.” As he stretches out his wing, he's also stretching his leg, foot and toes.

Charles has had his share of mates in the nearly two decades that naturalist Mark H.X. Glenshaw has observed the great horned owl: Sarah, Samantha, Olivia, Danielle, Sophie and Virginia.

“The ladies love Charles,” Glenshaw said.

Mark H.X. Glenshaw
Emily Woodbury
Award-winning naturalist Mark H.X. Glenshaw has observed and documented the activities of a male great horned owl, his mates and their offspring since December 2005.

Charles and Virginia started nesting in mid-December. Shortly after, she disappeared. Due to various factors — including Charles’ hooting into the hollow of the tree where they nested — Glenshaw believes she died.

“It's very sad and very unfortunate because not only did she die, but she was incubating eggs,” Glenshaw said. “[The eggs] did not hatch because not only do they have to be incubated, they have to be rotated, and only the female does that.”

When great horned owls lose a mate, they typically find a new one pretty quickly — and Charles is no exception. In January, Charles began courting a new female.

“Charles has not only been hooting, but he's also been going to the nest and showing her the nest, calling from the nest, which is essentially an owl version of saying: ‘Hi, I've repainted the baby's room, I've bought the ring, I want to meet your parents — I'm very serious,’” Glenshaw said.

The new female has also spent a good deal of time in the core of Charles’ territory. “I'm at a key point now where I can say that, yes, they are a pair; Charles has a new mate,” Glenshaw said. “And I'm naming this female Tess.”

The window for great horned owl mating and nesting has closed, but Glenshaw hopes the pair will stay together until the next mating season, around January 2024. Glenshaw is confident in their pairing, as Charles “has really seemed to ignore and avoid the other females.”

Charles’ local celebrity status is thanks to Glenshaw, who has documented the great horned owl for 17 years. Glenshaw visits Forest Park as often as six or seven days a week, and many nights, he hosts owl prowls, giving people the chance to observe Charles and the other great horned owls in the park.

A female great horned owl in Forest Park
Daria McKelvey
Tess, a great horned owl who is paired with Charles, sits in a tree naturalist Mark Glenshaw calls “Overlook Hotel.”

Glenshaw spoke with St. Louis on the Air producer Emily Woodbury in late March at one such owl prowl. Listen to the sound-rich, on-location production on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher or by clicking the play button below.

An intimate peek into the life of Forest Park’s most famous resident
Join this “owl prowl” led by St. Louis naturalist Mark H.X. Glenshaw.

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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 produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.