ST. LOUIS — Astrid, like all other birds of prey, swallows her smaller food whole, fur and all. She often throws up what’s left of her food, which is a pellet of bones, fur, and scales that she can’t digest. The great horned owl is one of 12 animal species that will be tracked and studied as part of the new Forest Park Living Lab effort in St. Louis, Missouri

Later, researchers will collect and examine her pellets to study her diet, discovering indications that she ate mice, shrews, squirrels, and other birds.

Scientists from the Saint Louis Zoo, Saint Louis University, and the World Bird Sanctuary put a small GPS tracking device on Astrid in October 2021. The tracker is designed to lie comfortably on her back between her wings, like a small “backpack.” She is the Forest Park Living Lab’s first bird of prey to be studied in this manner.

Researchers can learn more about the health of the Forest Park ecosystem by analyzing the behavior and diet of apex, or top, predators like owls.

Scientists have been tracking Astrid’s travels for the past year. According to the statistics, she spends her days roosting in trees near the Steinberg Skating Rink’s prairie boardwalk.

She hunts at night among the trees west of the boardwalk and near Jefferson Lake. Astrid also frequent the park’s athletic areas, resting on flag sticks in the Highlands Golf Course and on fences and light posts near the Boeing Aviation Fields.

Astrid’s gadget helps researchers keep track of where urban owls go and what they do, so they can figure out which parts of the park she uses for food, shelter, safety, and raising her young.

Despite the fact that Forest Park is her main base, she occasionally wanders into the city, flying about the hospitals east of the park and stopping by Saint Louis Community College.

Edward, an adult male great horned owl, is Astrid’s mate. Guests visiting Forest Park may occasionally glimpse the couple. Researchers also look for owl pellets under trees where Astrid and Edward have been seen sleeping. The pellets are studied in a lab to learn about how the diets of the owls change during the four seasons.

Forest Park Forever, The National Great Rivers Research and Education Center, Saint Louis University, the Saint Louis Zoo, Washington University in St. Louis, and the World Bird Sanctuary collaborated to create the Forest Park Living Lab.

Experts in wildlife ecology, animal migration, and veterinary medicine are working on the study. They are looking into the health, behavior, and interactions of wildlife in Forest Park’s many different habitats.

The Forest Park Living Lab is studying the movement of biodiversity in an urban park in St. Louis, Missouri. Researchers want to put GPS trackers on some of the park’s mammals, birds, and reptiles. They also want to collect health and disease data on all the individual animals in the study.

Forest Park, which spans over 1,300 acres, is home to 210 bird species, 20 animal species, 23 reptile species, 20 natural fish species, 200 pollinator species (bees, butterflies, and moths), and 200 insect species.

Researchers also track raccoons, box turtles, and snapping turtles. The project will track coyotes, mallard ducks, and fish.

This diversified wildlife includes year-round residents, seasonal migrants, and infrequent visitors. The park’s woods, woodlands, prairies, savannas, wetlands, and rebuilt river system have 600 plant species.

The project provides a completely unique map of biodiversity health and movement by building a movement record of individuals from a range of species using all the park’s habitats, which can drive conservation efforts and provide researchers with an indicator of Forest Park’s environmental health.

The Forest Park Living Lab sprang out of the St. Louis Box Turtle Project to study and analyze the health of three-toed box turtles in Forest Park and at Washington University’s Tyson Research Center.

The Forest Park Living Lab was awarded a seed grant from the Living Earth Collaborative in 2020, and collaborators have contributed to the endeavor over the last two years.