Classification and Range
Spectacled owls, along with two other species, belong to the genus Pulsatrix, which is part of the family Strigidae or “typical” owls. The owls in the genus Pulsatrix are large, have stout beaks, strong feet and dark faces outlined by light feathers. The range of the spectacled owl reaches from southern Mexico, south to Paraguay, southern Brazil and northern Argentina.
They occupy a variety of habitats from thick, humid rain forests and mangroves, to open woodlands. Spectacled owls have been observed at elevations up to 4,000 feet (1,220 m), but they predominately live at lower elevations.
The spectacled owl stands approximately 17-19 inches (43-48 cm) tall and weighs 21-33 ounces (590-950 g). As with most raptors, the female is larger than the male. These large owls have dark heads and backs and buff-colored fronts. They have no ear-tufts. Spectacled owls have an unmistakable face pattern. Light circles around their yellow eyes give them the appearance of wearing glasses or spectacles; this accounts for their name. Juveniles are even more striking, often called “white owls” by local populations. Juveniles have white heads and bodies, dark brown wings and brown to black facial masks.
Up to 25 years in captivity.
In the wild: Spectacled owls prey on insects, tree frogs, reptiles, birds, small mammals and even crabs. At times they will tackle skunks and opossums.
At the zoo: Mice, rats, coturnix quail and occasionally insects.
Nesting can occur from January to August. Spectacled owls are cavity nesters, seeking out holes in trees to nest. Clutch size is normally two white eggs, with incubation lasting about 36 days. Approximately six to eight weeks after they hatch, fledglings are ready to take their first flight.
Both parents continue to take care of their young after they leave the nest. In captivity, juveniles have taken up to five years to acquire adult plumage. It is likely that young assume adult plumage sooner in the wild. Usually roosting by day on a branch, or nesting in a large cavity high in a tree, a spectacled owl is predominately a nocturnal hunter.
Calls of the Wild
The spectacled owl has a variety of distinct calls in the wild. Both sexes utter a rapid series of about seven low-pitched, short, rattling hoots sounding like hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo. Some who have listened to this call have remarked that it sounds something like a woodpecker's tapping. Another call used during flight is a short “whistle” that sounds like wer, which is often repeated about every 10 seconds. When the spectacled owl is alarmed, it may produce three or four descending low hoots that sound something like a growl. Juveniles produce more of a raspy call, “kweew.” The spectacled owl appears to be especially vocal on moonlit nights.
Location at the Zoo
A spectacled owl can be seen at the Raptor Center. Other birds that can be viewed at the Raptor Center include the bald eagle, gyrfalcon, Harris’s hawk, turkey vulture and barred owl. Additionally, owls can be seen in the zoo’s Temperate Forest bioclimatic zone; a great gray or spotted owl adjacent to Bug World and a barn owl at the Family Farm. The zoo’s Eagle Release Program has rehabilitated and released back into the wild more than 80 eagles, plus other raptor species.
Due to its elusive behavior and dense forest habitat, little is known about this species. Spectacled owls are thought to be fairly common where their tropical forest habitat remains. But as tropical forests continue to disappear, the spectacled owl will be at greater risk of endangerment. Although spectacled owls seem to be somewhat tolerant of deforestation, and can be found in drier woods and cultivated areas, they do need wooded areas for successful nesting.
Woodland Park Zoo along with other Association of Zoos & Aquariums' (AZA) institutions, has participated in a captive-breeding project for this species. Breeding records, kept in a studbook, are used to ensure that the captive population stays genetically healthy. Woodland Park Zoo has experienced great success in breeding spectacled owls.
Many raptor species are in danger. Human-caused changes in land use are escalating, and this affects the habitats and migratory corridors required by some raptors for survival. Vast forests are removed for timber and other paper products, and industrial emissions pollute water and air resources. Critical shoreline and riparian zone habitats are rapidly converted by expanding human communities and agricultural needs. Shooting and trapping are also lowering raptor numbers. It’s only a matter of time until more raptor species may face extinction, unless we take measures to protect their habitats.
Humans need raptors. Here are only a few of the benefits raptors provide:
- Raptors help keep animal populations in balance.
- Raptors consume many animals that humans consider as pests, including mice, rats and destructive species of insects. This helps to control disease and damage to crops.
- As top predators of their food chain, raptors are an indicator species of the overall health of the ecosystem in which they live.
- Of equal importance, witnessing wild raptors enriches each of our lives. Imagine what life would be like if we could no longer hear the haunting evening call of the owl.
How You Can Help!
Efforts to save threatened and endangered raptors require cooperation and support at international, national, regional and individual levels. You can help in this cause. Join and become active in Woodland Park Zoo and other conservation organizations of your choice. Recycle forest products. Eliminate or reduce pesticide use. Support breeding programs for endangered birds of prey at zoos and other animal care organizations.
Contact Woodland Park Zoo at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how you can support conservation efforts at the zoo. Learn other ways you can help conserve wildlife and the habitats they require for survival by visiting our How You Can Help page.
Sources and Suggested Reading
Toops, Connie. 1990. The Enchanting Owl. Voyageur Press, Inc., Stillwater, MN. 127 p.
Jarvis, Kila and Denver W. Holt. 1996. Owls: Whoo Are They? Mountain Press Publishing Company, Missoula, MT. 59 p.
Zoobooks. 1992. Owls. Wildlife Education, Ltd., San Diego, CA. 17 p.