What the World Looks Like to Birds

Special Camera Lets Humans Simulate a Bird’s Color Vision

Researchers at Lund University in Sweden designed a special camera to recreate how a bird sees color in their surroundings.

The study reveals that birds see a very different reality compared to what humans see.

Human’s and bird’s color vision is based on three primary colors: red, green and blue.

But unlike humans, birds perceive light in the ultraviolet spectrum.

Unlike humans, birds can perceive ultraviolet light
Unlike humans, birds can perceive ultraviolet light

Simulating Bird’s Color Vision

Dan-Eric Nilsson, a professor at the Department of Biology at Lund University, collaborated with then post-doctorate Cynthia Tedore to simulate birds’ color vision with a high degree of precision.

The university’s Lund Vision Group built a computer-aided multispectral camera equipped with optical filters.

The filters are mounted on wheels that can be rotated on top of the lens to imitate the vision systems of various animals.

Filters were selected to match the color sensitivity of the four types of photoreceptive cone cells found in birds’ retinas.

Broad-winged Hawk's color vision help them hunt small animals from perches underneath the forest canopy
Broad-winged Hawk’s color vision help them hunt small animals from perches underneath the forest canopy

READ: Birds Categorize Colors Just Like Humans Do

UK Vision Enhances Contrast in Forest Environments

Researchers found when imaging dense foliage the upper sides of leaves appear much lighter in ultraviolet to birds.

From below the leaves appear very dark.

The three-dimensional structure of dense foliage is apparent to birds and makes it easy for them to move, find food and navigate.

Images taken with and without the specially designed camera (Photo: Cynthia Tedore)
Images taken with and without the specially designed camera (Photo: Cynthia Tedore)

Human eyes see the foliage in green. The primary color where contrast is the worst.

“What appears to be a green mess to humans are clearly distinguishable leaves for birds,” says Nilsson.

Nilsson says their discovery is important for birds, and that they’ll continue to reveal how reality appears to other animals.

Now we can see through the Spectacled Owl's eyes and learn their many secrets
Now we can see through the Spectacled Owl’s eyes to learn their many secrets

“We may have the notion that what we see is the reality, but it’s a highly human reality. Other animals live in other realities, and we can now see through their eyes and reveal many secrets. Reality is in the eye of the beholder,” he adds.

Read the findings in Nature Communications.

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