Birds have many adaptations to help them survive in their environment, and this sometimes includes having big eyes. These big-eyed birds have evolved this feature for a variety of reasons, including improved vision for hunting, detecting predators, and navigating low-light conditions. In this article, we will explore some of the birds with big eyes and the reasons behind their impressive visual abilities.
12 Birds with Big Eyes
There are many birds with big eyes in the world, including the common ostrich, the peregrine falcon, the common potoo, the American kestrel, the spotted thick-knee, the osprey, the Eurasian eagle owl, the Southern white-faced owl, the great horned owl, the burrowing owl, the Eastern screen owl, and the short-eared owl.
1. Common Potoo
Scientific Name: Nyctibius griseus
Let’s face it, the common potoo is a bit goofy looking. These unique birds can be found in South America and southern regions of Central America. Their large, yellow eyes and wide mouth with a “tooth” in the front give their face a unique appearance. The common potoo is a nocturnal hunter, and uses those big eyes to see their insect prey in low light. Their feathers blend perfectly with branches and stumps where they perch for camouflage. Their wide mouth aids them in catching moths, flies, locust and other large insects.
2. Short-Eared Owl
Scientific Name: Asio flammeus
The short-eared owl gets its name from the short tufts of feathers on the sides of its head that look like ears but aren’t. Short-eared Owls have mottled brown plumage with streaks and spots, which provides excellent camouflage against their grassland and marshland habitats. Their large eyes are adapted for excellent low-light and night vision.
They have a high density of rod cells in their retinas, which are specialized for detecting light at low levels, making them effective nighttime hunters. Short-eared Owls have a nearly worldwide distribution and can be found on every continent except Antarctica. They inhabit a wide variety of open habitats, including grasslands, tundra, marshes, and agricultural fields. While most owls have large eyes, the black coloring around the eye socket really makes the short-eared owl’s eyes pop.
3. Peregrine Falcon
Scientific Name: Falco peregrinus
The peregrine falcon is one of the largest falcons in North America. They are also one of the fastest birds in the world, reaching speeds of up to 200 miles per hour when diving for prey. These falcons have fairly large eyes and very keen eyesight. Large eyes help the Peregrine falcon see prey from up to one mile away.
4. American Kestrel
Scientific Name: Falco sparverius
While the peregrine falcon is one of the largest in North America, the American kestrel is the smallest falcon in North America. It also happens to be the most common. Also called the sparrow hawk, it is only about 12 inches long with a wingspan of 20 inches.
They have large eyes and amazing eyesight, which helps them spot prey from long distances. When they spot prey, they can dive at speeds of up to 64 miles per hour to catch them.
5. Spotted Thick-Knee
Scientific Name: Burhinus capensis
The spotted thick-knee is native to sub-Saharan Africa. It gets its name from its bulky knees that stick out from skinny legs. These birds have relatively large eyes, which help them see when they are most active, which is during dusk and nighttime.
The large eyes help them see during low light conditions. Spotted thick-knees are typically 16-18 inches long and have mottled brown, black, and white feathers. These ground hunters catch insects, small mammals and lizards.
Scientific Name: Pandion haliaetus
Ospreys are large birds of prey with a wingspan of up to six feet. Compared to their heads, ospreys have relatively large eyes. These big eyes help them spot their prey, which are mainly fish, from high up in the sky.
Ospreys typically dive feet-first into the water, grabbing fish with their super sharp talons. Even fully wet, they are able to immediately fly away while holding the fish with their feet until they can land on a perch to eat.
7. Eurasian Eagle Owl
Scientific Name: Bubo bubo
The Eurasian eagle owl is a large bird, measuring up to 30 inches long with a wingspan of up to 6.6 feet. Like many other owls, this species has large eyes adapted to nocturnal life. In addition to being big, this owl’s eyes are forward-facing, which helps them have binocular vision in lowlight conditions. The shape and size of this owl’s eyes allow it to have exceptional night vision, making it an adept nocturnal hunter.
8. Eastern Whip-poor-will
Scientific Name: Antrostomus vociferus
Whip-poor-wills are medium-sized nightjars with flattened heads, large eyes, and dark brown feathers. They’re nocturnal like other nightjars and typically solitary, though they may gather in flocks during migration. Eastern whip-poor-wills winter in Mexico and along the Gulf coast, then head north to the eastern U.S. to breed.
You can find these birds in woods near fields and other open areas. They typically hunt flying insects seen at night, such as moths, beetles, mosquitoes, and crickets. If you happen upon one during the day they will probably have their eyes fully or partly closed, so the full extent of their eye shape tends to only be seen at night. Other member of the nightjar and poor-will family have similar features.
9. Great Horned Owl
Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
The great horned owl is one of the largest owl species in North and South America. They have a wingspan of up to five feet and can be up to 25 inches long. Great horned owl are named for the prominent “horns” on their heads, which are actually tufts of feathers that stick up.
Like other owl species on this list, they have eyes that are relatively big compared to their heads. This helps them see at night, which is when they are most active.
10. Burrowing Owl
Scientific Name: Athene cunicularia
Burrowing owls are unique because instead of perching in trees, they are ground-dwelling. They can be found throughout North and South America. This species has large eyes that help them see at night to catch prey and navigate their burrows.
They either dig these burrows themselves, or take over abandoned burrows from other animals such as prairie dogs or ground squirrels. These burrows provide important shelter and protection for the owls and their young.
Scientific Name: Charadrius vociferus
The killdeer is a bird native to North and South America. They prefer to live in open areas like fields, and are known to be commonly spotted in parking lots, lawns and golf courses. Killdeer have brown backs with white underparts, a double black collar around the neck, and large eyes with red irises.
They nest directly on the ground and can put on a display that makes them appear injured to lure potential predators away from their nest. Their name was derived from their loud calls that sounded like “kill-deer.”
12. Common Ostrich
Scientific Name: Struthio camelus
The common ostrich is a large, flightless bird measuring up to nine feet tall and weighing up to 300 pounds. These large birds have long legs and can run up to 43 miles per hour. They also have the largest eyes of any land mammal.
In fact, their eyes are actually bigger than their brains. The common ostrich’s eyes are around two inches in diameter. They aren’t just for looks, though. Ostriches have very good vision, which helps them spot predators from far off.