Osprey Adult and Juvenile

The Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) pictured above were photographed while the nestlings were still in the nest. One of the nestlings decided to test its flight feathers during the photo shoot, to the dismay of its sibling.

Did you notice that the nestlings have orange eyes…

Osprey Juvenile

while the adult has yellow eyes. (Click on photos for full sized images)

Osprey Adult

There are several species of birds whose eye color changes from birth to adulthood. One species, in which you may be familiar with this phenomenon, is the Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis). Their iris is dark in newly-hatched birds, becoming grayish then buff yellow in juveniles…

Red-tailed Hawk Juvenile

and gets darker as the bird ages into maturity, seen here in this dark morph Red-tailed Hawk.

Red-tailed Hawk Adult

The Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) nestling has a dark brown iris…

Bald Eagle Nestlings

which becomes a buffy brown within a year…

Bald Eagle Sub-adult

and then pale yellow at maturity as is the case with this leucistic Bald Eagle.

Bald Eagle Leucistic

But I’m actually here to consider the differing shades of iris in the Acorn Woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorus) seen in my yard. The adult Acorn Woodpeckers have golden-yellow or white irises like this male sticking his head out of a nest entrance.

Male Acorn Woodpecker Adult

The adult female looks similar but has a black gap between the white forehead and her red crown.

Female Acorn Woodpecker

I have seen plenty of juvenile Acorn Woodpeckers with very blue eyes like this one. Both the male and female juveniles have solid red crowns making it near impossible to sex them.

Acorn Woodpecker Juvenile

Just last week was the first time I had ever seen juveniles with brown eyes. The specimen below has fairly dark brown eyes.

Acorn Woodpecker Juvenile

This juvie looks like it’s on its way to being an adult male. His tan iris seems to be fading to yellow and his spotty crown is beginning to appear more solid.

Acorn Woodpecker Juvenile Male

I’m sure there are many more bird species whose irises change from nestling to adulthood. I would appreciate any examples you may know of in the comment section!

Written by Larry
Larry Jordan was introduced to birding after moving to northern California where he was overwhelmed by the local wildlife, forcing him to buy his first field guide just to be able to identify all the species visiting his yard. Building birdhouses and putting up feeders brought the avian fauna even closer and he was hooked. Larry wanted to share his passion for birds and conservation and hatched The Birder's Report in September of 2007. His recent focus is on bringing the Western Burrowing Owl back to life in California where he also monitors several bluebird trails. He is a BirdLife Species Champion and contributes to several other conservation efforts, being the webmaster for Wintu Audubon Society and the Director of Strategic Initiatives for the Urban Bird Foundation. He is now co-founder of a movement to create a new revenue stream for our National Wildlife Refuges with a Wildlife Conservation Pass.