PITTSBURG, Kan. — If the neighbors happened to hear Bob Mangile in his front yard earlier this spring hooting at a towering pecan tree, they didn’t let on that they thought it was odd.
“Hoo-hoo hoooooo hoo-hoo,” he called, hands cupped around his mouth to amplify the sound.
He was tenaciously trying to get a great horned owl to reveal more of itself than just its iconic ear tufts, which could be seen — but just barely — in the crotch of the tree.
On this day, his efforts were fruitless.
No matter. Inside, in his many photo files, he has evidence for anyone interested that there was yet another owl species nesting and rearing young just feet from the Pittsburg bungalow he shares on three acres with his wife, Liz.
Giving up on the owl, Mangile moved from the front yard to the back to say hello to more wildlife; first chickens, then a squirrel he feeds by hand, then a few hundred pigeons and lastly, a wren renting a coffee can in his workshop. Soon, when the weather is warm enough, he’ll add bullfrogs, salamanders and turtles to the list.
Forty years ago, none of it was here.
“It was a naked, bare horse pasture when we moved here,” Mangile said.
Today, it’s a wildlife sanctuary, certified by the state and filled with plant and animal life. But the couple are not done yet.
“It takes 40 years to grow a forest, but it takes much longer for those trees to die off and allow woodpeckers, squirrels and so on to nest in hollowed out trunks and stumps,” Mangile said. “Folks do not realize that a view of a lot of green trees is not a complete forest.”
Mangile grew up in Chicago, an unlikely place to develop an affinity for nature. It was a childhood friend there who unwittingly introduced him to caring for pigeons.
“He got a BB gun for Christmas, and he wanted to show me how good he was with it,” Mangile said. “He shot a feral pigeon off of a bungalow, and it tumbled to the ground and we caught it.”
With an injured wing, it couldn’t fly. But it laid an egg that night.
Lacking any other nesting material, the two friends cut a hole in most of the pages of an old book and made a bowl-like structure and put the egg in it. They watched and waited.
“It never hatched, of course, but that was how my love affair with taking care of pigeons started,” Mangile said.
About the same time, Liz was growing up in Southeast Kansas, becoming an angler at a young age. She learned to seine and fish on the Neosho River, where her dad would awaken her during the night to run lines. She has fond memories of those days.
Today, she doesn’t mind that Bob has around 300 pigeons in backyard coops. He’s a self-taught expert on pigeon genetics and earlier this spring sent samples of the “blood feathers” of several of his pigeons to the University of Utah. There, as part of a DNA sequencing project, they are being tested for the relationship of two unique genes as they relate to blindness or vision impairment.
Nor does she mind that he actively encourages broad-headed skinks by creating habitat — dead trees, stumps and rock piles — in their yard. By doing so, he’s developed a breeding population of the skinks, which are on the threatened species list in Kansas.
Birds of a feather
Both founders of the Sperry-Galligar Audubon Chapter some 20 years ago and still active members, the couple enjoy feathered wildlife best of all.
They’ve built countless bird houses for others, are fixtures at the chapter’s annual birdseed sale to raise funds for projects, help to coordinate the annual Christmas bird count, and for years, Bob has kept tedious records of the fledging success of fellow bluebirders who keep nesting boxes.
He was elated when owls began nesting here. First, it was screech owls who chose a box on a tree in the back pasture. The owls would often visit the squirrel boxes he installed by the back door, popping up at dusk and sitting in the openings for awhile, sometimes calling into the night.
Then, barred owls took up residence. Not to be confused with barn owls, they’re the ones that call “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” They fledged babies in the backyard as well, then moved to the huge pecan tree out front.
Again last year, in the pecan tree, the barred owls nested. There were no babies — at least none that Mangile could see — and he speculated that a great horned owl made lunch of them.
This year, it was a great horned owl that nested there in the pecan tree. Mangile isn’t sure it was successful, as it disappeared about the time he expected a hatching.
Mangile paused for a moment on his jaunt around the acreage to call to a squirrel and feed it by hand. It’s a common occurrence, he said — it knows his voice. Moments later, a chicken approached and allowed him to pick it up. And when he reached inside one of his many coops, pigeons allowed him to handle them.
“A few years ago, a barred owl baby fell from the tree, and I picked it up and put it back in a different tree on our west fence line,” Mangile recalled.
It stayed for a few days before hopping south from tree to tree, then taking flight.
“I’ve had bullfrogs tame enough to touch at my pond out back,” he said. “And Boxie the Box Turtle — it would come up for food and allow me to handle it without any fear. Type in ‘Boxie the turtle eating’ in YouTube, and you can see some video.”
Mangile, who retired years ago from McNally Manufacturing, said he’s been interested in nature and had an affinity for wildlife for as long as he can remember.
“People ask how long, and I just say, ‘I guess I was born this way’,” he said.