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The Color of Birds' Eyes

Yellows, whites, browns, greens, reds . . .
© Jon Corcoran & Lindell Dillon View Large

Peer into the world of birds, and eyes of many different colors peer back. While eye color isn’t tied to one group of birds or another, a common pattern is a change in eye color as immature birds grow to adulthood. Bald Eagles, Ring-billed Gulls, and ducks such as goldeneyes and scaup have brown eyes as youngsters, and yellow eyes as adults. Red-tailed Hawks reverse this pattern, with their eyes changing from yellow to brown. And the yellow eyes of a young Cooper’s Hawk, pictured here on the right, turn deep red as they reach maturity.  
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Full Transcript

Transcript: 

BirdNote®

The Color of a Bird’s Eyes

Written by Bob Sundstrom

This is BirdNote.

[http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/22874, 0.13-.16] 

Peer into the world of birds, and eyes of many different colors peer back.

[http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/165930, 0.11-12]

There shades of light and dark - yellows, whites, greens, the red eyes of certain hawks, ducks, loons, herons, and songbirds. These colors really pop because birds have no white around the iris like we do. So the yellow eyes of a Great Horned Owl or a Herring Gull seem to give the birds a fierce, penetrating glare. If you picture them with soft brown eyes, though, suddenly they seem much less intimidating. 

While eye color isn’t tied to one group of birds or another, a pattern common to many birds is a change in eye color as immature birds grow to adulthood. Bald Eagles, Ring-billed Gulls, and ducks such as goldeneyes and scaup have brown eyes as youngsters, and yellow as adults. Red-tailed Hawks reverse this pattern, with their eyes changing from yellow to brown, while the yellow eyes of a young Cooper's Hawk turn deep red as it reaches maturity.  

Not all birds’ eyes change color as the birds age. But for those whose eye color appears to signal adulthood, this is likely an adaptation that helps them gauge the maturity – and suitability – of potential mates.

For BirdNote, I’m Mary McCann. 

###

Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Great Horned Owl [165930] recorded by William R Fish. Ring-billed Gull [122644] recorded by L R Macaulay. Cooper’s Hawk [140257] recorded by Gerrit Vyn. 

Surf ambient - NatureSound # 23 Surf Moderate Sandy recorded by Gordon Hempton of https://quietplanet.com/

BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.

Producer: John Kessler

Executive Producer: Dominic Black

© 2016 Tune In to Nature.org        April 2017         Narrator: Mary McCann

ID# eye-01-2016-04-29 eye-01     

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