FROM THE SKY, Forest Park resembles a long, slender finger sprouting from an endless mass of wilderness that expands north and west to the Pacific Ocean. In scientific parlance, such an uninterrupted connection to a larger ecosystem is known as a wildlife corridor—a veritable highway for critters great and small to safely frolic and dine on one another, relatively unencumbered by roads and development. And it helps to explain Forest Park’s rich trove of wildlife (nearly 200 species of birds and mammals, and counting). Here are three park-dwellers that showcase Forest Park’s wild side.
Northern Pygmy Owl
When full-grown, these elusive birds stand only about six inches tall. Darting through the forest, they are easily mistaken for well-fed song sparrows. It’s estimated that there are about 20 pygmy owls living in Forest Park each year, usually nesting in streamside snags away from forest edges. And because these owls are diurnal—active during the day—there’s a good chance you might hear one cooing from a treetop on your afternoon stroll.
Although they slip easily into the park, it’s unlikely that more than 10 elk would be roaming in Forest Park at any given time. They prefer to travel along ridgelines in small, same-sex herds, adding to their five-foot-tall, 700-pound frames by munching on sword ferns and shrubs as they go. Grassy power-line corridors are especially enticing for their ease of travel, and most elk spotted in the park are seen northwest of Germantown Road, generally in off-trail, interior areas.
Bobcats roam a territory of up to 42 square miles and have been observed in remote, northwestern locations of Forest Park. But because they are solitary—and stealthy—population estimates are hard to make. However, the area has definite appeal for bobcats, who dine on nesting ground birds and small rodents like moles and mice, all richly supplied by the park. Though only twice the size of a typical tabby, these cunning cats are also capable of bringing down a deer.