The (Bird’s) Eyes Have It

Blog Category
Discover Nature Notes
Published Display Date
Feb 16, 2015

Birds, in general, see well. Birds of prey probably see better than any other living creature. They can see as much as eight times better than we can. Owls, which are active at night, can find mice in light 10 to 100 times dimmer than that needed by the human eye.

A bird’s eyes are the largest structures in its head and often outweigh its brain. These big eyes produce large images in sharp detail. Some birds’ eyes are also capable of instantaneous shifts of focus, essential to birds that hunt while flying at great speed, as well as those that hunt flying prey.

A predatory bird’s eyes are on the front of its face, which lets it focus both eyes on one object. This is “binocular” vision, and we have it too. Binocular vision enables the bird, and us, to determine the size of an object and its distance. Most birds have eyes on the sides of their heads, letting them see different things with each eye. This “monocular” vision allows birds to scan two large areas.

Birds not only see well; they see in color. This shouldn’t be surprising, since birds are among the flashiest-colored animals. Bright colors are important in bird courtship. Males display boldly to fend off other males from their territories and to attract mates.

In the Eyes of a Raptor

  • Also known as a bird of prey, a raptor is defined by its claws, a hooked upper beak and large eyes.
  • Depending on the species, the large eyes of raptors take up to 25 to 67 percent of their skulls.
  • Raptors’ well-developed eyes give them the ability to see great distances eight to ten times better than humans.
  • Raptors of North America include hawks, vultures, condors, eagles, falcons, kites, osprey and owls.

Find out more about raptors with MDC’s Field Guide.

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