Jun 09 2011

Red Eyes

Published by at 6:35 am under Quiz

Black-crowned Night-heron (photo by Brian Herman)
Black-crowned night-herons are usually active at night but they're so busy during the breeding season you might find one awake when the light is good.  Then you can see his colors.

Isn't his red eye awesome! 

Other birds have red eyes too.  The red-eyed vireo is obvious -- it's in his name -- but the rest require some research. 

How many red-eyed birds can you name? 

Leave a comment with your answer.

p.s.  Here's a question for the experts (I don't know the answer):  Why do they have red eyes?

(photo by Brian Herman)

11 responses so far

11 Responses to “Red Eyes”

  1. Steve Gosseron 09 Jun 2011 at 7:58 am

    The birds I can think off the top of my head with red eyes would be the Common Loon, Reb-bellied Woodpecker, Eastern Towhee and Snail Kite. As to why they have red eyes, I haven’t a clue but I do know it makes them look stunning.

  2. faith cornellon 09 Jun 2011 at 9:13 am

    Well I don’t know the answer and so I will curious to see who will provide it for us. Love these quizzes and the picture. Sure is a gorgeous feathered tenant of the earth for us to enjoy.

  3. Kate St. Johnon 09 Jun 2011 at 9:36 am

    Adult Coopers Hawks have red eyes…

  4. Jennieon 09 Jun 2011 at 9:49 am

    Red-bellied woodpeckers are frequent visitors to my back yard and I never knew they have red eyes until now. Your blog is certainly, ahem, an eye opener, Kate. 😉

  5. sharon leadbitteron 09 Jun 2011 at 11:09 am

    Eared Grebe, American Coot, Blue-winged Teal, Canvasback, Wood Duck, Bee Eater, Bronzed Cowbird, a certain type of vulture (can’t think of the name), Inca Dove, Roseate Spoonbill, Rufus Towhee …… and many more

    The closest I can find about why they have red eyes simply says it’s because of red pigment but I can’t find anything as to the purpose of the coloring.

  6. Joshua Schulzon 09 Jun 2011 at 1:38 pm

    You know, whenever I try and do something like this my mind blanks out, so I’ll be kicking myself when I scroll back up and read the other comments. Oh well, that’s the story of my life.

    Swallow-tailed Kite, Black-capped Vireo, Pied-billed Grebe, Coopers and Sharpies both have sort of redish eyes, Northern Goshawks have really red eyes.

    Okay, I’ll stop guessing and give up. I’m definitely paging through my bird book this afternoon.

    (Oops. . . after reading Mr. Gosser’s comment, I think I meant Snail Kite, not Swallow tail. I live in the east and I’ve never bean out west so I haven’t really looked carefully at them.)

  7. Joshua Schulzon 10 Jun 2011 at 8:58 pm

    Okay, apparently I know just enough about birds to babble like an idiot :). I was thinking of white-tailed Kite, not swallow-tailed and Horned grebe instead of Pied-billed. Apparently, Sharpies and Goshawks both have orange eyes, but in my defense, my National Geographic illustrated field guide shows coopers, sharpies, and goshawks with equally red eyes. But, I do have a photographic bird book, so I checked that one out this afternoon and counted 36 red-eyed birds, including the Black-crowned Night Heron and Red-eyed vireo (a lot more of them had dark orange eyes, so I tried to be conservative.) Here are the North-american birds I counted from the book.

    Lesser Prairie Chicken
    Wood Duck
    Cinnamon Teal
    Long-tailed Duck
    Red-breasted Merganser
    Red-throated Loon
    Arctic Loon
    Pacific Loon
    Yellow-billed Loon
    Horned Grebe
    Eared Grebe
    Western Grebe
    Clark’s Grebe
    Roseate Spoonbill
    American Bittern
    Tricolored Heron
    Snail Kite
    Cooper’s Hawk
    Black Rail
    King Rail
    Purple Gallinule
    American Coot
    Sandhill Crane
    Band-tailled Pigeon
    Eurasian Collared Dove
    Black-wiskered Vireo
    Cactus Wren
    Bronzed Cowbird
    Green-tailled Towhee
    Spotted Towhee
    Eastern Towhee

    So, If we say there were 34 possible and say, SAT style, that an incorrect answer is -1/4 points, then I got 1 out of 34, which is a 2.9%. Kate’s quizzes are hard!

    P. S. Does anyone know why black-crowned Night Herons eyes turn from yellow, as juveniles, to red, as adults? Do all red-eyed birds do this? Why do I use so many commas? (Okay, you don’t have to try to answer that last one.)

    P. P. S. Red-bellied woodpeckers have very dull red eyes, and I wasn’t counting the ones that weren’t obvious, which the red-bellied was definitely not.

  8. Kate St. Johnon 11 Jun 2011 at 9:10 am

    Great list, Joshua! I thought about loons but forgot about the ducks. (Duh! Of course the Cinnamon Teal!)
    Eyes changing color as they mature: This is fairly common. Red-tailed hawks are a good example. Since birds can see colors I’m sure it’s part of “looking fit for breeding.” There are probably other reasons too.
    I’m still wondering “why red eyes?” as opposed to brown, black, blue, green, yellow.

  9. kellyon 15 Jun 2011 at 4:00 pm

    Someone just posted this pic on a flickr.com group I follow.


    That is an intense peeper.

  10. phillipon 17 Jun 2011 at 2:08 am

    …hello Kate,

    I found this site when doing a search for ‘eyelashes on birds’ because this small, larger than a sparrow bird, but thinner, flew to my windowsill and sat for 30 seconds.

    She looked like a movie star !… with eyelashes almost 1/2″ long, not many of them, about 6-7 each eye.

    I tend to believe she is the mate of a red breasted, red tipped wing male, my guess would be a small cardinal.

    I live in south eastren New Mexico, any ideas..?

  11. Kate St. Johnon 17 Jun 2011 at 6:24 am

    Phillip, if the bird you described had a big beak like a cardinal, my guess would be a pyrrhuloxia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyrrhuloxia).
    Other possibilities, though these don’t quite have red feathers where you describe tham are: purple finch, cassin’s finch and house finch.

    If the beak is small and the male is very, very red I would guess vermilion flycatcher. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vermilion_Flycatcher) They have long bristle feathers around their bills to help them catch bugs in the air. (Click on the photo of the female on the nest at the wiki link to see the bristle feathers.)

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