Vision and the foraging technique of Great Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo : pursuit or close-quarter foraging?

Graham Martin, Craig White, Patrick Butler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

29 Citations (Scopus)


Predatory diving birds, such as cormorants (Phalacrocoracidae), have been generally regarded as visually guided pursuit foragers. However, due to their poor visual resolution underwater, it has recently been hypothesized that Great Cormorants do not in fact employ a pursuit-dive foraging technique. They appear capable of detecting typical prey only at short distances, and primarily use a foraging technique in which prey may be detected only at close quarters or flushed from a substratum or hiding place. In birds, visual field parameters, such as the position and extent of the region of binocular vision, and how these are altered by eye movements, appear to be determined primarily by feeding ecology. Therefore, to understand further the feeding technique of Great Cormorants we have determined retinal visual fields and eye movement amplitudes using an ophthalmoscopic reflex technique. We show that visual fields and eye movements in cormorants exhibit close similarity with those of other birds, such as herons (Ardeidae) and hornbills (Bucerotidae), which forage terrestrially typically using a close-quarter prey detection or flushing technique and/or which need to examine items held in the bill before ingestion. We argue that this visual field topography and associated eye movements is a general characteristic of birds whose foraging requires the detection of nearby mobile prey items from within a wide arc around the head, accurate capture of that prey using the bill, and visual examination of the caught prey held in the bill. This supports the idea that cormorants, although visually guided predators, are not primarily pursuit predators, and that their visual fields exhibit convergence towards a set of characteristics that meet the perceptual challenges of close-quarter prey detection or flush foraging in both aquatic and terrestrial environments.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)485-494
Number of pages10
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2008


  • vision
  • foraging
  • eye movements
  • prey capture
  • diving


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