One of the characteristics of the Burrowing Owl that draws people to them is their gorgeous lemon colored eyes. I for one, am mesmerized by their eyes and love to take close up photos focusing on the eyes. (These close up photos are taken from quite a distance thanks to my amazing Canon SX50 HS camera)
Over they past year, we have been seeing more and more instances of Burrowing Owls with black eyes or varying colors ranging from the common yellow to jet black eyes, and everything in between.
I have contacted experts in British Columbia, and California, and they have no reports of this occurring in the Western species of the Burrowing Owl. It has only been noted in the Marco Island, (FL) population and Brevard County on the east coast of Florida and here in Cape Coral.
Using the power of a zoom lens, you will see that many of the owls have an almost mosaic pattern to the eyes, looking like yellow sparkles in the dark iris. It is thought that this is due to a genetic issue. The owls in the previously mentioned areas do not migrate, so there is a lot of inbreeding going on. There must be a recessive gene that is showing up in these owls. The dark eyes are seen in both juveniles and adults, so they do not outgrow the dark eyes. It is not known if it affects the hunting abilities of the owls and if their long term survival is affected.
A while back I found out that a photographer that had come to Cape Coral to photograph the owls, submitted one of his photos to a contest. His entry was returned telling him that entries that were photoshopped were not allowed in the contest. “Owls do not have black eyes” he was told. I didn’t find out about this until after the fact. I certainly would have gone to bat for the guy. I have dozens of photos of “black eyed owls”.