Episode 27: Forest Park Owl Prowl Transcript


Nature Boost Podcast

Owl Prowl


[Music playing.] 

[Owl hooting.] 

>>  Hey there and welcome back to Nature Boost.  I'm Jill Pritchard with the Missouri Department of Conservation.  Since working for MDC I've seen some pretty wild wildlife.  Bears, elk, snakes, but there is one elusive species I've sadly not had the pleasure to see . . . that is until I met Mark Glenshaw. 

Hi Mark! 

>>  How's it going? 

>>  It's going great, thanks so much for having us! 

>>  It's good to see you! 

>>  Mark is an award winning naturalist who studies wildlife in St. Louis's Forest Park.  But one resident of the park has been keeping Mark on his toes for sixteen years. 

[Owl hooting.] 

Since 2005, Mark has been observing Charles, a great horned owl who calls Forest Park his home.  Over the course of the years, Mark has seen Charles court with females, raise owlets, and entrance the many visitors of Forest Park on the daily.  Through public outreach and owl prowl tours, Mark has taught hundreds of people about Charles and great horned owls in general. 

I met up with Mark in early March, which happened to be right off breeding season and Charles and his mate were raising two five-week old owlets. 

>>  There is the mom with one of the babies. 

>>  Oh my gosh!  Look at that! 

>>  That was five minutes ago. 

>>  You just took that, wow! 

>>  Charles is tucked away right now.  He's in a tricky spot.  But hopefully he will grace us with his more visible presence. 

>>  To me, one of the most fascinating aspects of this story is its location.  Forest Park is situated just minutes from downtown St. Louis.  It is a little ironic that the first owl I see in the wild happens to be in one of Missouri's most populated areas. 

>>  Forest Park is just under 1300 acres, making it 500 acres larger than Central Park in New York City, and making Forest Park one of the largest urban parks in the United States. 

>>  As a lifelong Missouri resident, I had no idea.  I mean, I live in Jefferson City.  But I had no idea that that was here in St. Louis. 

>>  Yeah, it's amazing.  There are other cities that are amazing cities, but not all of them have a place like Forest Park.  Like I love Chicago, Chicago is truly one of the great cities in the world.  It doesn't have a place like Forest Park.  I've had people come here from Chicago and they are like, "Uh, can I take this home with me?" 



>>  Well, I mean obviously it is a pretty well known place here.  We've been here, and I mean, it is a gorgeous day here on March 1st and so many people are out enjoying this wonderful weather that we have had.  It's no secret.  That's for sure. 

>>  No, but people, also one of the things I love about leading owl prowls. I'll have people that have lived not only in Missouri, but in the St. Louis area, and know Forest Park very well and will come away from an owl prowl and tell me "I have a totally different understanding of the park", or "Wow, I have never been in this part of the park," or "I had no idea that this was going on in Forest Park, that you had all this amazing wildlife." 

>>  You may haven't seen a great horned owl in the wild, but I can guarantee you've heard its call.  This owl's hoot is pretty famous and is a popular sound to use to create that ominous feeling in TV shows or movies. 

[Owl hooting.] 

>>  The great horned owl is also one of the most common owls across Missouri, being found state wide in many habitats from deep forests to urban areas like Forest Park.  They are also one of the biggest owls found on this continent. 

>>  Great horned owls are the third tallest owl in North America, between 18 and 25 inches tall.  So a foot and a half to just over two feet tall.  With that height comes a lot of weight, they are the second heaviest owl in North America, coming in at 2-5 pounds.  The name gets a little confusing.  That middle part "great" - very clear.  Horned, yes, you think antlers.  They have two things on top of their heads, these are not horns or antlers.  This confusion is amplified with other owls two of whom are migratory in Missouri.  The long eared owl, and short eared owl, who like the great horned owl have two things on top of their heads.  But they are not ears, either.  

So what are they if they aren't antlers, horns, ears?  They are groups of feathers.  These groups of feathers are called tufts.  T- U-F-T-S.  The more technical term, good for your next game of Scrabble, a little to long for wordle, is plumicorns. 

>>  Plumicorns. 


>>  Plum-i-corns is the spelling.  About 40% of owl species on the planet have tufts, or plumicorns, sometimes called ear tufts.  That's slightly less confusing than eared or horned but still a little confusing. 

These tufts are really interesting because while so many owls have them, there are several theories about tufts and their purpose but there is not one theory that most scientists agree upon.  One theory is camouflage, the tufts help to break up their outline.  Hunters listening out there, you know how important breaking up your outline is when you're trying to be camouflaged whether you're up in a deer stand or what have you. 

Another theory is that it might be a species identifier.  Ah!  You are a great horned owl.  You are big and you have tufts.  Oh, you are big and have no tufts, you are a barred owl. 

Another theory is that in silhouette and low light, that owl with tufts is going to look like a big predator: mammal, cat, dog.  Not in Missouri, but a wolverine, perhaps.  It might be intimidation through imitation. 

>>  As big as male great horned owls are, females tend to be even larger.  Mark explained that this species exhibits reverse sexual dimorphism where females are slightly larger than males.  The size difference may make it easier for the female to incubate or brood eggs and young.  By being different sizes, adult may be able to specialize in different types of prey, too. 

>>  So Charles is a big guy.  Charles has had five, and now possibly six mates.  One of the things that has been fascinating about this is that we've had different sized females.  Two bigger than him, but not huge.  Two huge, and one small, his size, maybe a little smaller.  One of these females is over here. 

>>  Oh, she's actually over here. 

>>  She is over here with her babies. 

>>  Is that what these people over here are watching too, I'd assume? 

>>  These are all part of the community of people that have grown around these owls.  Some people have been watching these owls for years, some of them for days, months.  Hey Joe! 

The tree on the left, you see the large hollow in that tree? 

>>  Oh my gosh, yeah. 

>>  In that tree is the female.  We don't know if it is Sophie from last year.  And her two youngsters.  I'm happy to give you guys a scoop. 

>>  Oh my gosh, I see them!  [Squeal.] 

>>  There you go!  Your first  . . . congrats!  Your first time seeing an owl.  I love seeing people see their first owl. 

>>  Oh my gosh!!!

>>  That's amazing. 


>>  They're really cute in that little hole in the tree. 

>>  That's a big hole!  That's a big owl. 

>>  Yeah, it's big, yeah. 

>>  Small for you and me, though. 

>>  Yeah, oh my gosh.  Oh, she just moved!  Oh my gosh, Mark, it looks like she is looking right at me. 

>>  Oh, they will look right through you.  It's amazing. 

>>  So, it's getting probably about five o'clock or later at this point, so in essence these are nocturnal.  Obviously, owls are night owls. 

>>  They are night owls.  But I've learned many words in study now, including the word crepuscular.  That means you are an animal that is active at the edge of day and night.  I did not pick this out of a hat.  I said, okay, when the sun sets they generally start to get active an hour or so before sunset and let's come out and watch them start to wake up.  They stretch, and groom, and they call.  Let's see how that will manifest itself tonight. 

>>  It's so interesting that they are just now beginning their day. 

>>  Yes, for the most part.  The female may have been a little active feeding the youngsters during the day.  We don't, we can't see the youngsters super well right now but they are well over half adult size and they're five weeks old. 

>>  They're really fluffy whenever . . .

>>  Crazy fluffy, crazy fluffy.  And you see how big she is.  You can see . . . let's see.  Let me put my binos on. 

>>  Yeah, go for it.  I mean she is right clear as day in that hole. 

>>  The owlets are a little tucked away.  But they are massively large.  Let me see if I can pull up a photo from yesterday. 

>>  How long do the owlets stay with the mom? 

>>  They stay with their parents for a very long time.  Here we are on March 1st and these owlets are five weeks old.  They hatched in late January and the female started nesting in late December.  She was on an egg on December 19th to the best of my knowledge.  So here is one of the babies yesterday. 

>>  Oh my gosh! 


They are so cute but I think what I find so funny about rafters is that with their beaks and their eyes they all kind of look stern. 

>>  There is an element of that.  And there is a difference between, "I'm looking stern versus oh I am stern." 

>>  Oh I'm sure. 

>>  One of the things . . . a big part of what I do whether it is a prowl or just coming out here.  If I see someone who is too close to the owls, I explain to them why they shouldn't be so close and that it is a stress on the owl.  These are very powerful predators.  They eat everything from insects, small rodents to small birds to not so small things.  They eat racoons and other birds of prey.  Two weeks ago first the female, and then the male, each of them went for a great blue heron. 

>>  Those are massive. 

>>  Twice the size of a great horned owl, powerful predators in their own right.  Herons were terrified.  I have been into wildlife all my life and I had no idea that great horned owls were apex predators until I started to study them.  It just blew my mind. 

It looks like Charles might be popping out a little. 

>>  Oh My!  He's just sitting there! 

>>  He's just sitting there.  Now he wasn't 20-30 minutes ago.  He was deep within that branch which is actually hollowed.  He has popped out of a different hole than the one he went into.  That is Charles. 

>>  This is the first owl I've seen today, I mean, I saw his mate. 

>>  Third! 

>>  Yeah, exactly, yeah. 

>>  But now you really see.  This is a very fascinating spot and not entirely typical.  They generally will not perch on a big thick branch like that.  But he was in that branch.  That branch is hollowed out. 

>>  Oh I see that it is hollowed out, yeah. 


>>  It is very interesting.  There is so much to say about this branch, this tree.  Charles as I mentioned has had several mates.  The first mate I saw him with was Sarah, the most amazing female great horned owl I've ever seen.  They nested every year I saw them together, I saw them together for 9.5 years and they had 23 babies in that time. 

>>  Oh, God bless Sarah. 

>>  Yes.  This tree has three hollow branches and Sarah nested in one of them twice, and the other branch that she used she used it four times including three years in a row. 

>>  Wow. 

>>  The branch he is on, the branch he was in was never used as a nest.  Now they would perch there sometimes but since Sarah's unfortunate death in 2015, Charles and his mates have not used this tree for perching and nesting and it has been totally overrun by racons.  Well, in mid-January he came back to this area.


He eventually got into that hollow.  My jaw was dropped and even watching him today it is still dropping because prior to January 16, 2022 he had not perched in that branch.  Watch him stretch his wings. 

>>  Oh my gosh. 

>>  He had not perched in that branch in 6.5 years. 

>>  What do you think prompted him to go back to it? 

>>  I have no idea and I wish he would answer my emails. 

This is a perfect example of how much they keep mixing it up.  They never stop. 

>>  I just heard him hoot! 


>>  You can see the female.  So he is going to hoot even more to her.  By hooting, he is declaring his territory, he is defending his territory and he is also calling to communicate with her and bond with her.  This pair bonding is very important.  These owls have to nest so early because the young grow in a very fast way.  We mentioned that they are only five weeks old and are already at half adult height and weight.  In another 3-4 weeks, they will be 80% height and weight.  Here is the curve ball.  Imagine a human child with the body of a teenager, but the abilities of a toddler. 

>>  I don't like the way that sounds, Mark. 

>>  No.  Occasionally I'll have parents joke and say that sounds like my sophomore in high school. 

>>  Oh sure. 

>>  But then I remind them that they are probably not bathing and changing and otherwise working with their teenager like they are a toddler.  You know, their teenager can eat their own food.  They don't have to have mom and dad cut it up. 

Charles is most likely getting ready to fly.  They fly beautifully.  That is a four to five foot wingspan.  As you just heard, that massive bird flew by, he made no sound.  Come with me we want to . . . he's flown close to us.  We want to stand away from him. 

>>  During my owl prowl with Mark, we saw Charles and his mate fly a few times which was just jaw dropping as great horned owls have a wingspan of up to five feet.  My exact height, which is funny and a little jarring to think about. 

But even more fascinating, these owls are capable of silent flight.  Making no discernible noise when they take off. 

>>  It is one of those things that sometimes people are slightly skeptical about, and I understand this because you know, you see a robin and you go to get the mail and pick up a newspaper or whatever, or go to your car.  It doesn't sound like a 737 taking off at Lambert or KC International.  I would encourage you to listen to birds fly.  Most birds are pretty loud when they fly.  These owls, not all owls, but most owls fly silently due to the construction and material of their feathers.  All of their feathers are incredibly soft.  Their flight feathers are even softer.  It makes velvet feel like sandpaper. 


That softness allows the feathers when they move, when they fly, when they do anything feathers are moving against each other.  The softness helps dampen the sound.  Their flight feathers have spacing - a very loose serrated spacing on the trailing edges and tight serrated spacing on the leading edge.  Those serrations allow air to pass through and over without making sound.  Without making turbulence.  Turbulence makes sound. 

I have had Charles and some of the others fly 1-2 ft from me with the 4-5 foot wingspan and you hear . . . nothing. 

Now the silent flight gives them two huge advantages.  It allows them to approach their prey undetected by sound.  They can still be heard or seen or smelled.  Not heard, but smelled.  But it also allows the owls to hear while they fly and adjust because they have heard something change and they can hear it because they are changing silently and they can adjust in flight.  There is a video from 12 years ago, Winter 2011 of Charles flying from roughly that area to over here about 50-60 yards away.  He had been watching that spot for about 20-30 minutes and from his behavior I knew he was hunting, he definitely had something that he was keeping his eye on.  He flies over there and as he  . . .

[Owl hoots]

It is so beautiful. 

>>  I will never get tired of that. 

>>  Well said.  I haven't.  I have 16 years of evidence that no, not gonna get sick of it. 

As he's coming closer to the ground, yes, he is slowing down but he is also making these subtle little adjustments.  Damn, nails a small rodent.  If that rodent moved, and it very likely did, he could hear that because he was flying silently.  Think of not somebody sprinting, not even running, somebody jogging, think of how much noise they make. 

>>  Oh, yeah, I think of myself.  [Breathing noises.] 

>>  Yeah, feet pounding, breath going.  Even if you don't have headphones in you need to make sure that is not a bus about to run you over.  Imagine being able to jog, run, sprint.  Occasionally I will have people say, "oh, owls fly very quietly" and I remind them that there is a difference between quietly [whispering] and silence. 

>>  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  I have seen him this whole time really turning his head.  Tell us about  . . . I think there is a misconception that people think owls can turn their head 360 degrees. 


>>  They cannot.  At times, owls can turn their heads just around on the horizontal axis, just around three quarters of the way, 270 degrees.  The horizontal, pardon me, the vertical axis, they can turn their head not quite 180 degrees.  What makes that possible is incredibly flexible and more of them back bones.  We have seven vertebrae in our neck, owls have fourteen. 

>>  I don't know why that kind of creeps me out a little bit. 

>>  Now the other key thing is that their air and blood pathways have evolved so that when they turn their head, they don't cut off their blood and oxygen supply.  Like even if our skeletons allow us to turn our heads, we would choke ourselves. 

Why did they do that?  You see how big his eyes are?  So he is a little under two feet tall and his eyes are as big as yours, mine, and Dan's.  An average owl's eyes make up 5% of their body weight.  The average human being, our eyes make up 0.02% of our body weight. 

>>  That's crazy! 

>>  Now you see the eye cups on our binoculars?  Well, they have a bony ring around their eyes kind of like the eye cups on our binoculars called the sclerotic ring.  Between their very large eyes and the sclerotic ring, they cannot move their eyes from side to side and up and down.  They have no peripheral vision.  That is why they have adapted to being able to turn their heads.  To look behind us, you and I have to turn around but I can stand here with my head fixed as it is right now, see Charles, see Dan, see you, see people over there.  See the gnats flying around us.  All without moving my head.  So life is about trade-offs. 

>>  That it is.  Very well said.  We will have more with Mark and the Forest Park owls after this break. 

[Music playing.] 

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[Owl hooting.] 

>>  Welcome back to NatureBoost where we are talking with naturalist Mark Glenshaw about Charles, the majestic great horned owl that lives in St. Louis's Forest Park. 


At the time I spoke with Mark, Charles and his mate were raising two owlets that Mark named Betty and Sydney in honor of Betty White and Sydney Poitier.  Like all babies, they require a lot of maintenance. 

>>  Both parents work very hard doing very different things.  The female is with the youngsters keeping them safe.  At this age, as we are getting into warmer weather, she doesn't need to keep them warm but she still needs to keep them safe.  They are completely helpless. 

Charles is doing all of the hunting.  Growth rate we have talked about.  That requires a lot of food.  Remember, the female is bigger so on a given day she needs more food than him.  He is doing all this food acquisition, hunting for everyone.  What does that mean for him?  That means he needs even more food. 

>>   Right!  Because he is exerting so much energy hunting for his family! 

>>  Exactly. 

>>  So males will go into hunting overdrive.  Owls store prey.  The natural instinctive behavior.  Males with eggs and youngsters will just hunt and catch as much as they can. 

>>  Okay, I am sorry Mark, I will need to stop you right here.  You have been watching Charles, this owl, for over 15 years. 

>>  Yep. 

>>  16 years.  16 years.  You have watched him help raise how many young you said? 


>>  23 with Sarah and then we had a real gap after Sarah died.  Not for lack of trying.  Charles got a new mate a few months after Sarah died named Olivia, and she did not nest.  She did not pick a place and lay eggs.  She got replaced because she started spending times away from Charles.  She did not listen to her Tammy Wynette records, Stand by Your Man.  Oliva was a small female, about his size, maybe a touch smaller.  She got shoved out in April of 2016 by a larger more aggressive female.  Now I knew Charles and Sarah having 23 young in ten consecutive nesting seasons was very special.  All of this just underlined how special that was.  Danielle arrives on the scene, they mated and became a pair and she nested where you are seeing this female nest.  Actually Sarah nested there in 2008 and 2012.  Sadly at a key time in 2020, the eggs were just about to hatch or had just hatched.  The nest failed.  Raccoons got into the nest. 


So Danielle about a month after the nest failed just disappeared.  I haven't seen Danielle in almost 2 years.  And Charles was single for the longest time I had ever saw him.  For months!  Finally he very long story very short, he got a new mate, Sophie, last year.  She nested in that space and they had two owlets.  That became owlets 24 and 25.  Now currently with the owlets Betty and Sydney, that makes 26 and 27.  

>>  Charles has fathered 27 owls.  He has done this nearly 30 times.  I just am exhausted listening to that. 

>>  I appreciate that.  One way I kind of put this into context.  Just with Charles and Sarah.  I am one of six kids.  My parents had us in ten years.  In a little under ten years, Charles and Sarah had 23, almost four times as many. 

>>  I  . . . I am kind of speechless about that.  I am insane.  That is insane.  But that is the owl world, I guess. 

>>   That is the owl world.  So these babies take so long for those abilities to catch up with their bodies, that is why great horned owls have to nest so early.  Again, think of a human child with the body of a teenager and the abilities of a toddler and parents out there, be grateful that your five year old has the body of a five year old and the abilities of a five year old and the body of a twelve year old with the abilities of a twelve year old. 

>>  They aren't just huge giant babies.  Yeah. 

>>   So if all goes well, this owlets will be here until late summer early fall.  They leave, they disperse, going out to find their own territories and their own mate.  The parents start all over again.  They don't even get a week for like vacation.  It is, "there they go, okay that was our break, back to work." 

>>  Alright, let's do it again. 

>>  Let's do it again.  Imagine parents out there having 2-3 children a year.  Great horned owls average 2-3 youngsters.  Raising them to say the age of 16 or 17.  Then starting all over again. 

>>  Let me ask you this. 


I don't know if there is any way of knowing this but will there offspring stay around here? 

>>  Excellent question.  Most likely not very closeby.  They have to find a territory that is unoccupied. 

>>  I see. 

>>  Great horned owls while they don't migrate.  Overall with very few exceptions, this dispersal is very key.  It can be very close, as close as, "Hey, this works, mom and dad aren't going to give me grief."  And it can be quite far away.  Dispersal can be 1-3 miles, or it can be over a thousand miles.  Generally it averages about 50+ miles.  Dispersal is very important.  It helps the prey populations recover.  Imagine hosting Thanksgiving and no one leaves.  You're going to be at the grocery store a lot.  And it also allows the gene pool to spread out.  That yes, we are not related, let's become a pair and have healthy babies that will spread out further.  Dispersal is a bittersweet process.  The owlets own hormone levels will encourage them to disperse.  The parents are not shy about further encouraging dispersal.  They reach a period in Missouri, generally around the midsummer where they stop feeding them. 

>>  It is time to go out on your own. 

>>  Yes.  Any of you listening who have say a 25 year old at home, I would implement that policy . . . yesterday. 


>>  Mark, I want to know a little bit of your background.  You've been documenting and observing Charles since 2005.  What made you want to come to Forest Park and do this adventure in this area. 

>>  Excellent question, let's head up and take a look at the nest because we might be able to see more of the babies since the mom is out of the nest. 

>>  I will follow you for that. 

>>  There you go.  That is the key question, Jill, because this is not something you just roll out of bed one day and say, "hey, I am going to go study some owls."  This began with two very key and very organic seeds.  One is that I've always been interested in wildlife ever since I was a very young boy.  That interest has never gone away. 

But I found in the early 2000s, that interest really came to the forefront in the way it hadn't for some time.  So I thought well, where can I study wildlife close to my home?  I moved to St. Louis in 1995 to go to school here. 


I have always lived close to Forest Park, it is close to where I went to school.  I thought, oh, I can study the wildlife at Forest Park.  So, I started to come to Forest Park and I just fell in love with the park and its wildlife because it has so much wildlife.  I knew that there were owls here, and while I knew very little about owls, I can't emphasize enough how little I knew about owls.  I knew enough to know that they are really hard to find.  I had seen an owl once before in my life.  I was 19 years old, and thrilled to see that owl and I had never seen one.  They are so well camouflaged, mostly active at night, and they fly as we experienced fast and silent.  I thought, "Well, that's cool, I'm never going to see them." 

One day I was walking home through the park and it was around sunset, that key time.  I hear this hooting coming from a tree that I had walked right past.  I had been looking and listening.  The sun had set quite a bit by then and I'm hearing this hooting.  I don't know exactly what it is, but I'm pretty sure it's an owl.  And I go back to that tree because that's where the sound was coming from and there in that tree are two great horned owls, who I later named Charles and Sarah. 


And oh my gosh, so I am seeing owls only for the second time in my life.  Seeing them for the first time in Forest Park and that first sighting was really hard to beat.  In 20-30 minutes I saw them fly, before they flew I saw them hoot together.  When owls hoot together, male and female, it is called a duet. 

>>  How romantic. 

>>  It is very romantic, and also very practical.  Its this beautiful vocal and visual display.  It's haunting sounds, these beautiful motions.  Then they flew several times.  You saw Charles fly.  You saw the bit of flying.  Powerful, ethereal. 

>>  Graceful. 

>>  Yes.  If that wasn't enough, the owls provided a cherry on top moment.  And this all happened in 20 to 30 minutes.  The cherry on top moment was one of the owls went flying after, chasing after a great blue heron, a bird twice its size.  The heron was absolutely terrified.  I was hooked.  I thought, "what do I know about owls?  Practically nothing.  Time to hit the books." 

>>  It was that sighting that sparked Mark's interest and prompted him to start his research and visit Forest Park more and more in search of the owls. 

[Bird screeching.] 

>>  If we look, I will hold that for you. 

>>  Oh, thank you, Mark. 

>>  You can see . . .

>>  Oh my goodness.  So little. 

>>  Isn't that amazing? 

>>  What do you think they are thinking? 

>>  Where's food?  Where's food? 

What's that?  What's that?  One of the things we love about the owls is there curiosity.  The entire world is new to them and they are just so incredibly curious.  That curiosity gets us a little worried sometimes because you know curiosity can lead to good things and also lead to scary things.  But look at how huge they are! 

>>  They are so big!  Actually I am surprised now that I can see them both clearly how big they are in their little nest over there. 

>>  So beautiful.  Charles, again, I am very biased.  I have seen many other owls.  Charles is an insane physical beauty and an amazing beautiful hoot. 


>>  I love that we are standing here watching and even, even if I couldn't hear him, I think I could still tell that he was hooting because he kind of moves his body a bit. 

>>  Well said, Jill, it is a full body motion.  We can sit here and say, "Hello, good evening, how are you" without moving anything but our lips.  Hooting is a full body motion.  Now another thing about hooting.  You see the white patch on his neck?  That's called a gular sac and they all have that.  The white Gular sac as they become adults.  Gular sac.  Sac with no K, listeners at home.  The gular sac is what makes the hoot but there is a curveball at the end.  That beautiful sound, here it comes. 


With time and experience you learn how to predict hoots just watching their behavior.  That gorgeous powerful sound is made by the gular sac inflating with air, air moving across the vocal chords, the curveball.  When they hoot, their bill is closed. 

>>  I noticed that earlier! 

>>  Well done! 

>>  I noticed that when I was watching them through the binoculars!  How fascinating that is - making that sound without even opening his mouth. 

>>  In a more quiet part of the world, the call of a male great horned owl can be heard over a mile away.  Even here in Forest Park, here is another big factoid about Forest Park.  The total number of visitors the park gets each year - 13 million.  The population of Missouri - around six.  So even with all these people in Forest Park, interlink have heard his hoot 200, 300, 500 yards away.  It's that loud. 

>>  I just find it so fascinating.  I think there is this limitation or this belief that people have that you have to go far away to experience nature.  We are literally in the heart of St. Louis right now in Forest Park.  It is this fabulous, fabulous landscape and my first owl that I am seeing in the wild is in a large city in Missouri. 

>>  Yeah. 

>>  I think it is so funny. 

>>  Exactly.  Just in the St. Louis area, I have seen them all over the place.  To people who haven't seen an owl, or only heard one or had a brief sighting.  Trust me, owls are one of those things you start scraping the surface and you realize, "Oh, they're all over the place and they've been here this whole time." 


So let's talk about that.  For people who are going out on a hike or out in nature or they are camping, are there things people should be looking for in order to spot them?  Like we said, if I didn't have you here with me, I would be wondering, "Where is it?"  I don't know.  I'd have no clue. 

>>  Not even when we saw the female

>>  Yes, the female exactly!  She was so perfectly camouflaged.  It was insane.  So are there certain things that people should look for in order to see them in the wild? 

>>  Definitely.  One of the big things is the shape.  In addition to giving lectures on owls, I also lead tours like we did tonight, owl prowls.  I led 96 owl prowls in 2021, I set a new record. 

>>  Oh my gosh, that is amazing. 

>>  I will never forget, on an owl prowl a few years ago, Charles was up in the conifers and this lady said, "Oh, wow, he looks like a big pine Cone."  I remember thinking, "Yes, brilliant, write that down."  Looking at Charles, notice that conical vertical shape.  Look at any and all of these trees.  It doesn't matter the size of the tree or the size of the tree branch.  Tree branches mostly go horizontally or at an angle.  Owls do everything, as we see Charles here, sitting up nice and tall.  You want to look for that pine cone shape that's contrasting with the horizontal or angler branch. 

Now the other thing to do is to listen for the owl's hooting.  Now here is a very technical bit of advice.  If you hear them that a way, go that a way.  If you hear them this way, go this way.  Occasionally I will have someone say, "Oh I hear these owls but I can never find them." 

"Are you looking for them?" 


>>  That would be a good first step. 

>>  The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. 

Also listen for other animals' reactions to the owls. 

>>  How do you mean? 

>>  Warning calls. 

The downside of being a predator, never mind an apex predator like a great horned owl is that you don't have a lot of friends.  This tree over here on the right, you will hear cheep cheep cheep.  That is an American robin making a warning call about Charles. 

>>  Oh, awesome! 

>>  They will not only make warning calls.  Not just robins but other birds will make warning calls and they will harass.  There is the fluff up.  They will harass the owls, they will fly at them, around them, they will call at them, they will even hit them and buzz them.  All these behaviors are called mobbing.  Mobbing is a great way to not only find owls but any and all predators.  It could be a hawk, a snake, your neighbor's cat, or an owl.  A big part of mobbing is distracting predators from their young and teaching the young about predators and it is also a social alarm call.  "Hey, everyone, danger close!" 

This is like if you saw a polar bear on your block you would get on your neighborhood group or whatever it is and say, "Oh, there is a polar bear at 2012 Maple Street." 

>>  Right. 


>>  Watch out. 

>>  This is essence nature's version of that. 

>>  Yes, nature's social network.  Just with robins, never mind other birds.  I have seen Charles kill and eat adults.  I've seen him stalk and find nests and eat nestlings and fledglings.  This is a very serious threat.  This is not a game of tag.  This is life and death. 

>>  Yeah.  Nature can be scary sometimes. 

>>  It can be scary. 

>>  Wild animals do wild animal things. 

>>  Yes, oh yeah.  Make connections and make comparisons but also keep in mind that yes, this is a wild animal.  I mean, there is so much even now, sixteen years that I don't understand.  Why is Charles using that hollow again?  I have no idea. 

>>  You can speculate but you will never know. 

>>  I'll never know and he keeps not answering my emails. 

Again, you know, it can be frustrating but also fascinating. 

>>  This was a great experience and so much more than I could have ever asked for.  I truly enjoyed myself.  Do you have anything else you'd like to add about great horned owls or about anything at Forest Park?  Any final thoughts? 

>>  Oh how much time do you have?  I do.  You were talking about finding owls.  Just to tie it in with something I mentioned earlier.  The collaborative piece is very important with finding owls.  What you see in your neighborhood or local park is important and significant.  It is only a piece of the pie.  Talk to your neighbors and fellow park goers.  Ask them, what do you see?  Where do you see it?  When do you see it?  What time of day?  What time of year?  Share with them.  It is a great way to be more neighborly and you might even become friends with someone that you might not have met otherwise. 

The collaborative piece is really key on a scientific level and observation level, but also just a good human thing to do.  I encourage anyone and everyone to go out and look for owls.  Dress in dark muted colors.  You want to watch them from safe distances.  These are wild powerful predators.  You don't want to get them stressed or angered or anything like that.  One way I think of it, with great horned owls.  I would not mess with a racon.  I really don't want to anger an animal that eats racoons.  If you are not going to fight the middle weight, don't fight the heavy weight. 

>>  Well said, I agree. 

>>  Just with Forest Park, 13 million people visit the park every year.  They go to museums and have picnics and everything else.  No matter what we do in Forest Park we end our time in the same way.  We go home.  We've just spent the past two hours in the owl's home.  It is important to be a good guest.  You might have the deed to the property, but you are still in that animal's home. 

>>  If you 'd like to schedule an owl prowl with Mark in Forest Park, shoot him an email at mglenshaw@gmail.com and be sure to follow his Twitter account at Forest Park Owls to see his amazing videos and pictures of Charles, his mate, and Betty and Sydney.  I want to thank Mark again for this interview.  I learned so much and had a wonderfully fun time at Forest Park.  It really just goes to show, that nature can be found everywhere.  I'm Jill Pritchard with the Missouri Department of Conservation urging you to get your daily dose of the outdoors. 

>>  So do people kind of know you as the Forest Park owl guy then? 

>>  I prefer the term "the owl man." 


>>  Okay. 

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