Proposal (#326) to South American Classification Committee

Elevate the subspecies pulsatrix of the Spectacled Owl (Pulsatrix perspicillata)
to species


Effect on South American CL: This proposal would elevate a taxon to species rank that we currently treat as a subspecies.

König et al. (1999) treated the subspecies pulsatrix of the Spectacled Owl (Pulsatrix perspicillata), which is restricted to southeastern Brazil and probably extreme northeastern Argentina, as a species based on its "different vocalisations and very different plumage patterns". They acknowledged that this form was very poorly known, including the vocalizations. In fact, the only stated vocal difference between pulsatrix and perspicillata is that the former's primary vocalization does not accelerate. No quantification (i.e., sample sizes, spectrographs, localities) is provided for documenting that statement. With regard to plumage differences it is clear that P. s. pulsatrix differs from the distributionally closer P. p. perspicillata in being more chocolate brown dorsally, having a greater extent of chest band, and in having buffy (instead of white) and less extensive "spectacles". However, it could be argued that the plumage differences between perspicillata and the Central American (Mexico to Pacific slope of western Panama) saturata are as great as they are between perspicillata and pulsatrix. Thus, based solely on plumage, one might argue that there are three species of Spectacled Owl or one species that has discrete differences in morphology.

Although König et al. (1999) may well prove correct in elevating the southeastern Brazilian pulsatrix to species level, I believe it would be premature to do this without a more thorough vocal analysis, and as König et al. stated, genetic data are needed to confirm their hypothesis.

Recommendation: Based on the available data, I recommend that we continue to treat perspicillata as a subspecies. Therefore, I vote "no" for the elevation of pulsatrix to species.


König, C., F. Weick, and J-H. Becking. 1999. Owls. A guide to the owls of the world. Pica Press, Sussex, England.


Mark Robbins
January 2008


Comments from Remsen: "NO. As Mark outlined, data are insufficient for making any formal taxonomic change on this one. Hopefully, assertions about two populations having "different" vocalizations will never be taken as sufficient evidence for any change without presentation of actual data."

Comments from Stiles: "NO. I agree with Mark that current evidence for making this change is insufficient."

Comments from Zimmer: "NO for reasons stated by Mark. There needs to be more evidence submitted than what is there to justify a change."

Comments from Nores: "NO, pienso que las razones dadas por Robbins son suficientes como para considerar el cambio prematuro. Con ese criterio, habría que pasar una buena parte o la mayor parte de las subespecies a especies. En estos casos, hay que esperar indudablemente los análisis moleculares."