The Owl Pages

Spectacled Owl ~ Pulsatrix perspicillata


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.

Photo Gallery (10 pictures)

  • Spectacled Owl
  • Spectacled Owl
  • Spectacled Owl
  • Spectacled Owl
  • Spectacled Owl
  • Spectacled Owl
  • Spectacled Owl
  • Spectacled Owl
  • Spectacled Owl
  • Spectacled Owl

Sound Gallery

Typical call - Costa Rica. © Jorge F. Corrales.


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 305-360mm. Tail length 164-215mm. Weight 453-906g. Females are larger and heavier than males.

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 (mid-November to April), 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: From southern Mexico, through Central America to most of northern South America. Absent from the slopes of the Andes.

Range of Spectacled Owl (Pulsatrix perspicillata)
Range of the Spectacled Owl Pulsatrix perspicillata

Status: Generally uncommon, but locally common in areas such as Costa Rica, Colombia and the Amazon. Listed as 'Least Concern' by Birdlife International.

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.

References: (may contain affiliate links)
BirdLife International. 2020. "IUCN Red List of Threatened Species". IUCN.
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.
Sterry, Paul. 1995. "Owls: A Portrait of the Animal World". Smithmark.

See also: Other owls from North America, Central America, South America, Genus: Pulsatrix.

Page by Deane Lewis. Last updated 2020-10-28. Copyright Information.