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A Rough Mating Season For Forest Park’s Great Horned Owls, Charles And Danielle

Mark Glenshaw is obsessed with owls. By day, he is a manager at Fontbonne University’s library; but by night, he frequents a discrete area of Forest Park, checking in on a great horned owl he named Charles. 

Glenshaw has been observing Charles for almost 15 years, sometimes as often as six or seven days a week. In that time, he’s seen some owl lady friends come and go. Charles’ longtime partner, Sarah, died of natural causes a few years ago. Glenshaw watched another owl take her place, only to be chased away by a more aggressive owl. He named her Samantha, after the character Samantha in "Sex and the City."

Samantha was Charles’ mate for almost three years, until she died of a massive bacterial infection.

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
Mark Glenshaw is a naturalist who keeps track of a mated pair of great horned owls in Forest Park.

“She had been out of the park for a week, dead for two days; and I’m watching Charles, and I wonder aloud, ‘I wonder if and when another female will show up,’” Glenshaw said. “I turn my head, and there about 40 feet away is another beautiful female, just waiting. I’ve named her Danielle, and she and Charles have become a pair, and they have mated.”

The pair mated in late December, and Danielle laid eggs in mid-January. Things seemed to be going well for the couple until the middle of February. On Feb. 18, Glenshaw saw the nest fail. 

“Most likely due to a predatory incursion of raccoons,” he said. 

Glenshaw was sad to see the pair’s reproduction attempt fail, but he discourages any vilifying of raccoons. In fact, he said that owls sometimes hunt, kill and eat raccoons as prey.

“During the whole nesting period, I saw five, six, seven attempts on raccoons by the owls,” Glenshaw said. “This is what nature does. There are no villains, there are no heroes; they’re just trying to live, survive, reproduce.”

As for whether Charles and Danielle will mate again this season, it’s unlikely. 

“From what I’ve been seeing of their behavior recently, I’m not especially optimistic on a second attempt at nesting,” said Glenshaw.

If the pair does mate again, it will likely be a year from now. But, Glenshaw said, Danielle might have other plans. She’s been flighty in the past.

“For example, during the fall, when they should have been courting very intensely, Charles was hooting quite a bit, and she had been hit or miss big time,” he said. “I had two periods of over 10 days where I did not see Danielle in the fall. And then, finally, she started to become more consistent. She might be young. She might be [feeling like], ‘Hey, I just graduated high school, and I’m going out with this guy in his 50s.’”

Hear Glenshaw’s conversation with St. Louis on the Air host Sarah Fenske:

Glenshaw will continue to watch the pair as their relationship develops. For updates, check out his blog, Forest Park Owls, where you can also find information about attending one of his talks or his upcoming “owl prowls” where he guides visitors on an owl watch through Forest Park.

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 engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

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

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