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Spectacled Owl - Pulsatrix perspicillata

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Calls - Pulsatrix perspicillata
Typical call Costa Rica. © Jorge F. Corrales
Threat Call, female El Gavilan, Costa Rica. June 1999. © Doug Von Gausig

Introduction: The Spectacled Owl is a medium-sized to large owl with a rounded head with no ear-tufts. It has a dark face with contrasting 'spectacles' made up of white eyebrows and other white streaking between the eyes and on the cheeks.

[For help with terms used in the description, see parts of an owl. For general characteristics common to most owl species, see owl physiology.]

Description: The facial disc is dark brown, bordered by long white eyebrows, white lores and white malar (cheek) streaks. Eyes are bright orange-yellow. The cere and bill are yellowish-horn with a greenish tint towards the tip. The throat is white, forming a semi-collar, while the chin is black. The rest of the head and neck are uniform blackish-brown.
Upperparts are uniform dark brown, merging into a more blackish colouration in the hindneck. Remiges and rectrices are barred with paler grey-brown. The chest has a broad dark brown band at the top, while the breast and belly are uniform pale yellow to yellowish-buff.
Tarsi and toes are almost fully feathered creamy-buff. The unfeathered parts of the toes are whitish or pale grey, and the claws are dark.
Juveniles are feathered mainly white, with a contrasting blackish heart-shaped face and brown on the wings and tail.

Habits: An unsociable bird. Generally nocturnal, with activity normally beginning after dusk and continuing to dawn. Roosts singly by day in trees with dense foliage. Most vocal on calm, moonlit nights.

Size: Length 43-52cm. Wing length males 305-347mm, females 317-360mm. Tail length 164-215mm. Weight males 453-680g,  females 680-906g.

Voice: A series of knocking or tapping sounds with a popping effect "PUP-pup-pup-pup-po", each successive note being lower and weaker, and the rhythm quicker as the series progresses.
The Female also has a hawk-like scream "ker-WHEEER", which has been likened to a steam whistle.

Hunting & Food: Spectacled Owls eat small mammals including mice and the occasional possum or skunk, insects, spiders, many Caterpillars, bats, birds up to the size of Jays, crabs and frogs.
They use a branch to perch on and scan the surrounding area. When prey is located, they drop with a swift pounce. Insects are snatched from foliage.

Breeding: In Costa Rica, eggs are laid in the dry season, or at the start of the wet season. Spectacled Owls nest in tree hollows and lay 1-2 eggs, which are incubated by the female for about 5 weeks. Chicks leave the nest for surrounding branches at about 5-6 weeks, well before they can fly, but depend on their parents for up to a year once fledged. Often, only one chick will survive.

Habitat: Occurs more frequently in dense tropical rainforest with mature, large trees, including forest edges. Also found in dry forest, treed savannah habitat, plantations and open areas with scattered trees.

Distribution: Mexico, Central America, Northern two-thirds of South America.

Distribution of Spectacled Owl - Pulsatrix perspicillata
Distribution of the Spectacled Owl Pulsatrix perspicillata

Status: Generally uncommon, but locally common in areas such as Costa Rica, Colombia and the Amazon.

Original Description: Latham, John. 1790. Index orntihologicus, sive Systema ornithologiae; complectens avium divisionem in classes, ordines, genera, species, ipsarumque varietates: adjectis synonymis, locis, descriptionibus, &c. (Index Orn.) 1: p 58.

Subspecies: P. p. perspicillata, P. p. boliviana, P. p. chapmani, P. p. saturata, P. p. trinitatis


del Hoyo, Elliott & Sargatal. 1999. "Handbook of the Birds of the World: Barn Owls to Hummingbirds". Buteo Books
Duncan, James R. 2003. "Owls of the World: Their Lives, Behavior and Survival". Firefly Books
Johnsgard, Paul A. 2002. "North American Owls: Biology and Natural History". Smithsonian
König, Claus & Weick, Friedhelm. 2008. "Owls: A Guide to the Owls of the World (Second Edition)". Yale University Press
König, Weick and Becking. 1999. "Owls: A Guide to the Owls of the World". Yale University Press
Mikkola, Heimo. 2012. "Owls of the World: A Photographic Guide". Bloomsbury
Sterry, Paul. 1995. "Owls: A Portrait of the Animal World". Smithmark

Page Information:

Page compiled by . Page last updated 2013-08-03 Owl Species ID: 170.010.000

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