Spectacled Owl

Spectacled Owl

Details About The Spectacled Owl

  • General Information

    These large owls have stout creamy yellow beaks, dark heads and backs, and buff-colored fronts. They have no ear-tufts. Possessing an unmistakable face pattern of dark faces with light circles around their yellow eyes gives them the appearance of wearing glasses or spectacles. Juveniles have white heads and bodies, dark brown wings, and brown to black facial masks.

    Latin Name: Pulsatrix perspicillata
    Class: Aves
    Order: Strigiformes
    Family: Strigidae
    Length: 17-19 inches
    Weight: 16-32 ounces
    Wingspan: 30-36 inches
    Common Name: Black-Breasted Owl
    Etymology: pulsatrix (Latin) - “female pulsating one,” referring to its accelerating call; perspicillata (Latin) “conspicuous,” referring to its striking markings

  • Flight, Voice & Habitat

    When hunting, the Spectacled Owl generally perches on an open branch, leaning forward scanning for prey and striking with surprising agility for such a large owl, either with a swift pounce to the ground or an agile swoop to snatch prey from vegetation.

    The Spectacled Owl has several distinct calls. One call is a rapid series of about seven low-pitched, short, rattling hoots sounding like hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo. This can sound something like a woodpecker’s tapping. Another call used during flight is a short whistle that sounds like wer, which is repeated about every 10 seconds. When this owl is alarmed, it may produce three or four descending low hoots that sound something like a growl. Juveniles produce more of a raspy kweew. Vocalization seems to increase on brightly moonlit nights.

    This species occupies a variety of habitats from thick, humid rainforests and mangroves, to open woodlands. They have been observed at elevation up to 4,000 feet, but are more common at lower elevations.

  • Nesting

    Nesting season is in the dry and early wet season between April and June (September in Costa Rica and September through October in Panama). Spectacled Owls are cavity nesters, seeking out holes in trees to nest in. Clutch size is normally two white eggs with incubation lasting about 36 days. Approximately eight weeks after hatching, the fledglings take their first flights. Both parents will continue to care for their young after they leave the nest. In captivity, juveniles can take up to five years to obtain their adult plumage, but it is likely that they assume the adult coloration sooner in the wild.

  • Distribution

    Their range reaches from southern Mexico, south to Paraguay, southern Brazil, and northern Argentina. This is a resident owl and is not known to make any large movements.

  • Food

    The Spectacled Owl preys mostly on insects, tree frogs, reptiles, birds, small mammals, bats, and small crabs. They will occasionally eat skunk and opossum as well. Although mostly nocturnal, it occasionally will hunt by day and is frantically mobbed by jays and other birds.

  • Current Resident Birds

    Estrella, a female Spectacled Owl native of Costa Rica, moved to Carolina Raptor Center in 2010 from Goshen, NY. Named by a former staffer, her name means "star" in Spanish. The name is very fitting as she is one of the stars of the Carolina Raptor Center education program. 

  • Fun Facts & Other Interesting Information

    Juvenile Spectacled Owls are atypical of most raptors in that they live with their parents for about a year. It may take up to five years for them to get their adult plumage - going from a white all over look to the colorful plumage seen in most photos. Is this a species that suffers from a failure to launch? Maybe?

    All night, you can hear the Spectacled Owl call – with a multi-layered background of insects’ electric choruses, toads’ trills, the occasional grunts and whimpers of the monkeys as they reposition themselves. That owl’s quiet, regular whoo-whoo-whoo haunts the listener and reminds him that there is a hunter out there.