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Lynnwood WA, 98046

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June 2006

Kevin Mack The Eyes Have It
by Kevin Mack, PAWS Wildlife Naturalist

In previous installments of Wild Again we took a closer look at bird beaks (Profiles of Diversity, August 24, 2005) and feet (Amazing Feets, January 11, 2006). In this issue I would like to focus on the part of the bird that...well...focuses. Bird eyes are incredibly varied, exhibiting not only differences in size and color, but also in shape. Although most look similarly rounded externally, bird eyes often have a tubular rather than globe-like shape. Birds are able to change both the shape of the lens and the eye itself when focusing, unlike our eyes in which only the lens changes shape. Their retinas are far more densely packed with rods (light sensitive organs) and/or cones (color sensitive organs) than are our own. They also have relatively large portions of their brain dedicated to processing visual stimuli. In short, they see better than we do. How much better, we can only guess.

We will never be able to experience the world through the eyes of a bird, but we are able to appreciate the external beauty of the eyes themselves. The following photos literally put you eye-to-eye with a number of PAWS’ avian patients.

Laysan Albatross
This beautifully shaded eye belongs to a Laysan Albatross. The dark colored feathers around the eye may help to protect it from the sun’s glare.

The small feathers above the eye of this Merlin almost look like eyelashes, and they likely serve a similar function.

Varied Thrush
A bold orange stripe draws attention away from the eye of this Varied Thrush.

Barred Owl
Although Barred Owls typically only weigh about 1.5 pounds, their haunting dark eyes are as large as our own.

Horned Grebe
Although this Horned Grebe had recently been oiled, his eyes were not irritated. They are naturally blood-red.

Western Grebe
The Western Grebe’s eye is generally a deep red color as well, although some may hint at an almost orange-red color.

Clark's Grebe
Clark’s Grebes are very similar to Westerns, although white feathers extend above their red eye.

Killdeer have large, dark eyes circled by red lids. The eyes are set on the sides of the head, allowing the bird a very large field of view.

Cooper's Hawk
As is the case with most predators, the red eyes of this adult Cooper’s Hawk are set on the front of the head. This gives the bird binocular vision which allows for excellent depth perception.

Sharp-shinned Hawk
This eye belongs to a Sharp-shinned Hawk, a smaller cousin of the Cooper’s Hawk.

Red-tailed Hawk
A prominent ridge can be seen above the eye of this young Red-tailed Hawk. This may help shield the bird’s eye from the sun as he glides high in the air.

Immature Bald Eagle
The ridge is even more noticeable above the eye of this immature Bald Eagle.

Great Blue Heron
This yellow and red eye belongs to a Great Blue Heron. The skin surrounding the eye is certainly suitable considering the bird’s name.

Pileated Woodpecker
Notice the edges of the pupil on this Pileated Woodpecker. The edges are irregular rather than smooth.

Northern Saw-whet Owl
It is an amazing feeling to be looked at by an owl. Even small species like this Northern Saw-whet Owl have impossibly large and expressive eyes.

Snowy Owl
The bright yellow eyes of the Snowy Owl stand out in stark contrast to the white feathers that surround them.

Great Horned Owl
The iris of this Great Horned Owl’s eye appears to have an almost velvety texture. The gaze of this species has an especially hypnotic quality.

Northern Pygmy Owl
Even a bird as tiny as the Northern Pygmy Owl can appear to be fierce with eyes like this. Considering they sometimes catch birds larger than themselves, I guess there is more to their fierceness than just a gaze.

Bald Eagle
In many bird species, the color of the iris changes as the bird matures. Compare the eye color of this mature Bald Eagle to that of the immature eagle above.

White-winged scoter
This amazing pale-blue eye belongs to a White-winged Scoter.

Juvenile American Crow
At this time of year, you may find a crow on the ground that appears to be having difficulty flying. There will probably be other crows in the trees above you cawing and dive-bombing. Take a look at the eyes of the crow on the ground. If they are blue, like this one, you are looking at a juvenile bird. If the bird is uninjured and not in immediate danger (e.g. not sitting in the road), it is best to leave it alone. As the young bird matures, the eye color will change from blue to brown.

Double Crested Cormorant
The blue-green of this Double-crested Cormorant’s eye is one of my favorite colors. This photo does not fully do it justice.


One hundred and fifteen wild animals were released between May 18th and June 16th, 2006.  Thanks to all of you for helping to make these releases possible.

Wildlife Releases: May 18 - June 16, 2006

  • Eastern Gray Squirrel- 16
  • Eastern Cottontail- 6
  • Virginia Opossum- 12
  • American Robin- 19
  • Band-tailed Pigeon- 2
  • Steller's Jay- 3
  • Brewer's Blackbird- 2
  • Spotted Towhee- 2
  • Short-tailed Weasel- 1
  • Mallard- 33
  • Raccoon- 6
  • Glaucous-winged Gull- 1
  • House Finch- 1
  • American Crow- 4
  • Bewick's Wren- 6
  • Winter Wren- 1

210 wild animals have been released since the beginning of 2006.
Thanks to all of you for helping to make these releases possible!

All rights reserved. 2006 Progressive Animal Welfare Society

A Northwest leader in protecting animals since 1967, the Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) shelters homeless animals, rehabilitates injured and orphaned wildlife, and empowers people to demonstrate compassion and respect for animals in their daily lives.