The spectacled owl (Pulsatrix perspicillata) is a large owl found near to water in the tropical forests of Central and South America. The largest of the tropical owl species, this owl gets its name from “spectacles” of white feathers around their eyes and throat. Its other feathers are mostly brown, with a creamy coloured breast.
Spectacled owls feed on mice and insects, and will also take larger mammals. They are a largely nocturnal animal and generally unsociable with others of its kind. Because the spectacled owl occurs over such a large range and is abundant over this range, its population is not considered to be threatened or endangered.
Spectacled Owl Characteristics
The spectacled owl is the largest of all tropical owl species, with females being larger than males. They usually measure between 41 to 52.3 cm (16.1 to 20.6 in) in length, with females weighing between 680 and 1,250 g (1.50 and 2.76 lb), and males weighing between 453 and 1,075 g (1.00 and 2.37 lb).
Spectacled owls have a very distinctive appearance, characterised by their unique white feathers around their eyes and throat that give them “spectacles”.
The majority of the rest of their plumage is dark brown, apart from their breast which is either an off-white or light yellow colour. In juveniles, this colouring is reversed, with young spectacled owls having a white body and a dark facial disk.
Their eyes are yellow and their beak is a pale colour.
Spectacled Owl Location And Habitat
Spectacled owls are found throughout the Neotropics, in Mexico, Central America, South America and Trinidad and Tobago. They primarily live in tropical rainforests, wherever there is dense foliage, from sea level to elevations of 1600 m. When hunting, they occasionally move closer to forest edges and the minimal covering allows them to search for prey.
The spectacled owl has, on occasion, been found in dry forests and savanna plains, too.
Spectacled Owl Diet
The spectacled owl primarily feeds on mammals, preying on any animals are that are nocturnal when they are. These include rats, opossums, mice, and skunks. They will also prey on frogs, smaller birds (such as pigeons and jays), crabs, insects, caterpillars and spiders.
Spectacled owls are usually the most dominant owls in their range. They begin hunting at dusk and continue throughout the night. They hunt by perching on a tree branch and scanning the area. Once prey is spotted, they will swoop down quickly and pounce on it.
Spectacled Owl Behaviour
The spectacled owl is a solitary bird and is nocturnal in nature. During the daytime, it roosts by itself in dense foliage, before it starts hunting at dusk.
While the spectacled owl is unsocial, it does not mean it is a quiet bird! In fact, this owl is known to make a number of different vocalisations. They are most vocal on calm, moonlit nights, and males and females have different calls. Females primarily use their call during the breeding season, to attract a mate, and it sounds like a screech.
Males, on the other hand, have a call that sounds like a hammer hitting a hollow tree that gets progressively quieter. They make these calls to proclaim a territory, and occasionally a female can be heard making a similar, higher pitched noise.
The spectacled owl is a monogamous owl that breeds in the wet season. Like many other species of owl, they do not build their own nest but nest in tree cavities or abandoned nests of other birds. The female lays two eggs, and she incubates them for around five weeks. The male helps to take care of the female and the owlets.
Once hatched, it is common for only one chick to survive. This chick will leave the nest at around five to six weeks of age, before it can fly, but will return often to the nest. They may even be cared for by their parents for up to a year after they first fledge.
Juvenile owls go through around three years of moulting before they attain their adult plumage, and only after this moult can they fly properly.
The spectacled owl can live for up to thirty five years in the wild.
Fascinating Facts About The Spectacled Owl
- There are six subspecies of the spectacled owl recognised.
- On some especially quiet, moonlit nights, duet calls have been heard between male and female spectacled owls.
- In Brazil, spectacled owls are known locally as “knocking owls” because of their calls.
- Spectacled owls are not usually preyed on by other birds because they are so large. However, they hide in dense foliage to help protect themselves from being spotted by any potential predators.
- The spectacled owl reaches maturity between the ages of three and five.
- It is recognised that hummingbirds, kingfishers, and songbirds are closely related to spectacled owls.