For many birds, eye color changes with age

eye colors

In the ‘Since you asked for it’ section in every issue of BirdWatching, editor Julie Craves answers readers’ questions about birds and their behaviour. Here’s a question from our January/February 2019 issue.

Q: Can a bird’s eyes change color? Erica Cameron, Kansas City, Mo.

A: The glow of yellow eyes of a hawk, or even a grackle, reminds us that not all birds have dark colored irises. The next time you see a young grackle with dull plumage, take a look at the color of the eyes: they are brown. Only a few months after hatching, they turn pale. The photo above illustrates the difference.

The eye color of many species changes with age, often turning from gray or brown to red or yellow. For example, Brown Thrashers start out with gray eyes that turn yellow; The White-throated Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Gray Catbird, and several woodpeckers have grey-brown eyes that turn reddish-brown. A number of raptors, such as the Red-tailed Hawk and Cooper’s Hawk, have yellow eyes that turn red as they mature.

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