Friday, October 11, 2019

What kind of birds have red eyes? Photos of 13 kinds

Did you see a bird with red eyes and want to know what kind it was? Do you wonder just how many kind of birds have red eyes? Then you've come to the right place!

Red eye color is actually quite common in birds. There are several species of birds in North America with red eyes that are quite common. I'll show you the ones you're most likely to see in your own backyard or at a nearby pond. That's because many water birds of various types have red eyes!

Common birds that have red eyes include:

  • Spotted Towhee
  • Eastern Towhee
  • American Coot
  • Killdeer
  • Red-eyed Vireo
  • Wood Duck
  • Cooper's Hawk
  • Cinnamon Teal
  • White-winged Dove
  • Black-crowned Night-Heron
  • Canvasback
  • Phainopepla
  • Horned Grebe

And, yes, it is frequently the adult male that has red eyes. Often young birds and females have brown eyes.

Photo of a Spotted Towhee on a rock
Spotted Towhee. Greg Gillson.

Spotted Towhee

If you saw a bird with red eyes in your seed feeder it was either this Spotted Towhee of the western United States or the similar Eastern Towhee following. Up until recently they were both considered to be the same species--Rufous-sided Towhee. However, recent study indicated that they were different enough in song and DNA to be considered separate species.

These large sparrows often feed on the ground in tangles, scratching through the leaf-litter hop-kicking with both feet at once!

Photo of an Eastern Towhee in a tree
Eastern Towhee. Image by skeeze from Pixabay.

Eastern Towhee

Here, then, is the eastern counterpart of the Spotted Towhee. Rather than wing bars with spots over the wing coverts and back, this species has a white panel mid-wing. Both species have rusty sides and big white tail spots on the under side of the tail, best seen when the tail is spread.

These birds will readily come to seed feeders for sunflower seeds, especially platform feeders. You may see them there, or on the ground under the feeder cleaning up what other birds may have spilled.

Photo of an American Coot standing on a shoreline
American Coot. Greg Gillson.

American Coot

A black bird with red eyes at the local pond is likely to be the American Coot.

Many water birds have red eyes. The odd-looking coot is one you are most likely to encounter anywhere in North America. This relative of rails and cranes has green legs and feet with odd lobes on the toes, similar to grebes. It makes a loud grunting call. 

The chicken-like white bill and dark gray plumage makes it easy to identify--even if you don't notice the red eye!

These birds have taken over many park ponds. They eat emergent vegetation and fresh tender grass.

Photo of Killdeer sitting on eggs on gravel road
Killdeer sitting on eggs. Greg Gillson.


Look close! The eyes of the Killdeer are actually brown. It is the eye ring--bare skin around the eye--that is red. Eye rings turn brightly-colored in breeding season on many species such as shorebirds and gulls.

Killdeer are a plover, or type of upland shorebird, that is very common across the continent on shores and fields. 

They nest on the ground--even the grassy strips of parking lot dividers or the center of a gravel road! 

To protect their young the parents perform a behavior called a distraction display. They scream and drag their wing as if broken and run barely ahead of predators until they are far from the nest. Then they recover miraculously and fly away!

Photo of a Red-eyed Vireo in a shrub
Red-eyed Vireo. Greg Gillson.

Red-eyed Vireo

There is only one North American bird that has "red eye" in the name. It is one of the most numerically abundant birds in northeastern North America. 

However it tends to be found high in shade trees, often in damper locations. Unless you search for it you are unlikely to see, or even know about, this small insect eating songbird.

You may have heard it, though, singing slowly overhead during the hot middays of summer when all the other birds have stopped singing. You can remember it as widely spaced whistled phrases: "Hear me? Up here. Vireo!"

Photo of a Wood Duck on a pond
Wood Duck. Greg Gillson.

Wood Duck

Here's a colorfully gaudy bird that is found in most areas of the country. 

The Wood Duck is found in quiet wooded ponds in summer, more widely in winter, extending to flooded fields and larger ponds. It nests in tree cavities and readily takes to specially built nest boxes.

The red-orange eye of Wood Duck is surrounded by a deeper red eye ring.

Photo of a Cooper's Hawk in a tree
Cooper's Hawk. Greg Gillson.

Cooper's Hawk

There are three Accipiters in North America, all with red eyes as adults. Young birds for the first year have paler eyes, a yellowish-orange. 

The Cooper's Hawk nests in much of the United States and is seen more regularly than the smaller (and more northerly nesting) Sharp-shinned Hawk and larger Northern Goshawk.

With short broad wings and long tail all three species can fly and navigate at full speed through the thickest tree branches and tangles. 

Their diet is primarily small birds. They have been known to spend the winter near bird feeders to the angst and frustration of the bird watchers trying to feed their sparrows and finches.

Photo of a Cinnamon Teal on a pond
Cinnamon Teal. Greg Gillson.

Cinnamon Teal

This small duck of the West has a showy red eye. It winters in the Southwest and Mexico. In summer it moves north to breed in ponds to SW Canada. It is easily identified by its namesake color.

This is one of my favorite ducks. Love that cinnamon color!

Photo of a White-winged Dove at a bird feeder
White-winged Dove. Greg Gillson.

White-winged Dove

This large pigeon is found in the deserts of the American Southwest. The red eye is surrounded by a large patch of bare blue skin, brighter in breeding season. 

As you can see they frequent bird feeders and bird baths when available. 

The white wing patches separate them from other pigeons and doves.

Photo of a Black-crowned Night-Heron in a boat's rigging
Black-crowned Night-Heron. Greg Gillson.

Black-crowned Night-Heron

Night-Herons feed at night in shallow water and sleep away most of the day in dense wooded swampy tangles in medium-sized groups. The bird photographed above feeds at a nearby bait tank and often rests in the rigging of the boats in the marina.

For the first year of life this species is heavily brown and white streaked with a brown eye. Only the adults have red eyes.

Photo of a Canvasback duck on a lake
Canvasback. Greg Gillson.


Several ducks have orange eyes. Canvasback drakes have red eyes. 

These diving ducks are found in winter on deeper lakes and bays in coastal and southern United States. In summer they nest on prairie pot holes and marshy ponds in the Great Basin northward in western Canada and Alaska. I really have to get a better picture!

Photo of a Phainopepla on a desert shrub
Phainopepla. Greg Gillson.


This silky flycatcher is a unique bird of Southwest deserts and scrub. 

They are found wherever there is mistletoe--feeding on mistletoe berries and insects in mesquite desert and dry coastal oak woodlands of southern California. 

They eye is very dark red. The males have big white wing patches on the bases of the primaries, seen in flight. 

These certainly are one of my favorite birds (I think it's the crest!). They are common and inquisitive desert birds.

Photo of a Horned Grebe on a lake
Horned Grebe. Greg Gillson.

Horned Grebe

There are several species of black-and-white grebes with red eyes (Eared, Western, Clark's). 

I chose the Horned Grebe as a representative as it is very widespread. It nests throughout Canada and Alaska. In migration it may be found on ponds and lakes anywhere in the United States, wintering in the sough and along both Atlantic and Pacific coasts--wherever the water remains open all winter.

They eat small fish and aquatic insects.

Other birds with red eyes

There are many other birds with red eyes, including these: Red-breasted Merganser, White-tailed Kite, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Eared Grebe, Western Grebe, Clark's Grebe, Black Rail, Common Loon, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Yellow-green Vireo.


What kind of birds are yellow and black?

What kind of birds have red heads?

Little brown birds at your feeder

How to identify birds


  1. Thank you, I read this article because I was wondering if the red eyes on Towhee was to help them see under dark dense bushes. I guess not.

  2. Replies
    1. Greater Coucals are found in India and Southeast Asia.

      Thanks for visiting!

  3. It has taken more than 30 years for the Spotted Towhees to venture near my house. I have hoped all of these years that they would feel comfortable here instead of hiding in the bushes in a secluded part of my property!

    1. Wow. That's quite the patience!

      Often towhees will scratch on the ground under a feeder near a home at dawn, but very flighty!

  4. I thought this was an Oriole! Good to know. Ty!

  5. Thanks for sharing excellent information's. Your web-site is very cool. I'm impressed by the details that you have on this web site.


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