The subtlety of simple eyes : the tuning of visual fields to perceptual challenges in birds

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Colleges, School and Institutes


Birds show interspecific variation both in the size of the fields of individual eyes and in the ways that these fields are brought together to produce the total visual field. Variation is found in the dimensions of all main parameters: binocular region, cyclopean field and blind areas. There is a phylogenetic signal with respect to maximum width of the binocular field in that passerine species have significantly broader field widths than non-passerines; broadest fields are found among crows (Corvidae). Among non-passerines, visual fields show considerable variation within families and even within some genera. It is argued that (i) the main drivers of differences in visual fields are associated with perceptual challenges that arise through different modes of foraging, and (ii) the primary function of binocularity in birds lies in the control of bill position rather than in the control of locomotion. The informational function of binocular vision does not lie in binocularity per se (two eyes receiving slightly different information simultaneously about the same objects from which higher-order depth information is extracted), but in the contralateral projection of the visual field of each eye. Contralateral projection ensures that each eye receives information from a symmetrically expanding optic flow-field from which direction of travel and time to contact targets can be extracted, particularly with respect to the control of bill position.


Original languageEnglish
Article number20130040
JournalRoyal Society of London. Proceedings B. Biological Sciences
Issue number1636
Early online date6 Jan 2014
Publication statusPublished - 19 Feb 2014


  • sensory ecology, visual fields, binocular vision, foraging, optic flow-field, birds