how does a bird look

How can birds see ultraviolet wavelengths?

Three color receptors, also known as cone cells, are present in the human retina. The red, blue, and green color spectrum is detected by these cone cells. Because of this, human vision is described as trichromatic. (If you are familiar with color blindness, you should know that the cause is typically a weak or absent red or green cone cell. ).

In the retina, birds also have color receptors, but they have four cone cells rather than three. That means birds have tetrachromatic vision. They have four cone cells: three blue, three green, and three red. The fourth cone cell detects ultraviolet wavelengths.

As you can see, adding this additional filter gives the bird world a whole new perspective that is really fascinating.

Now that we understand the differences between bird vision and human vision, let’s look at some applications for bird vision.

A Bird’s-Eye View: How Do Birds See the World?

how does a bird look

If you’ve spent any time online, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the “secret shrimp colors,” which are hues that human eyes cannot see but mantis shrimp can because they have more color receptors than humans do. Aside from intense jealousy fits, it makes you wonder if there are any hidden bird colors that we are unaware of.

In short: yes. We must first comprehend how and what we see in order to comprehend how birds perceive the colors of the world. The three types of color-sensitive receptors in our eyes—blue, green, and red—allow us to see what are called spectral hues, which is just a fancy way of saying that the colors of the rainbow. We can also perceive purple, a color that is considered pure non-spectral, because our blue and red color receptors fire simultaneously. Birds, however, have not three, but four color cones. They can access colors in the ultraviolet (or UV) spectrum because they are tetrachromatic, in contrast to our trichromatic selves.

Here’s how their visual superpowers, in addition to sounding insanely awesome, also come in really handy when exploring the great outdoors.

You might struggle to distinguish berries among the undergrowth when on your afternoon walk through the woods, but birds haven’t got the same problem. That is because, as opposed to green leaves, seeds, fruits and berries reflect UV light and develop a coating as they ripen, making them pop. Think of it as important food items being spray-painted neon yellow, for example! The same is true of certain flowers. Though already lush and beautiful to our trichromatic eyes, they must really look like a feast to birds. But what’s a great food source if you can’t remember where it came from? That is why hummingbirds have learned to associate certain colors with delicious nectar.

how does a bird look

Not just plants have a large “Eat me!” sign adhered to their backs. Unfortunately for them, insects also do so; because of the way their body coverings reflect UV light, our insectivorous friends find them much more appealing. Furthermore, did you know that urine also reflects ultraviolet light? Kestrels and other predatory birds use urine to find rodent prey. Uh-oh, mister vole… Looks like urine trouble!.

You are undoubtedly aware by now that red birds become that way due to the foods they eat and that birds with more vivid colors tend to be healthier. As it happens, they are imprinted with a strong immune system from the moment they hatch. As harsh as it may be, you will have to choose the chick that has the best chance of surviving when you’re a tired bird parent and food is limited. The amount of UV light your kids reflect will help you determine exactly who that is.

Glowing beak spots can also help you locate those hungry mouths in the first place in the dark of your hollowed-out tree trunk home. Kind of like homing beacons… Pun intended.

Sure, being a parent is a tough job that not everyone is cut out for, but some bird species, like cowbirds and cuckoos, seem to think so too. Instead of going through the trouble of raising a brood, you can simply drop your egg into a songbird’s nest and let it take care of everything. Even better, you can disguise the egg to resemble one of their own. We would have assumed that all you had to do was try to catch me. Nevertheless, despite having an identical appearance to humans, certain birds have developed the ability to identify and remove the undesired parasite. This clever party trick may be made possible by UV markings that are invisible to the unaided eye.

how does a bird look

When it comes to plumage, beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. This is why we have always wondered why male birds are so flashy and colorful and females are so plain and brown. It appears that blue-tit males reflect more UV light than females, and the females seem to prefer mates that reflect the most light, suggesting that those lovely ladies are not as dull as we may have thought and that species where males and females look identical may not be as identical after all!

‍Studies have shown that UV markings help them differentiate between individuals and choose a mate. And what is better than looking sexy while still keeping a low profile with regard to predators? Since the latter see only in the violet range, our spectacularly flamboyant Casanova just looks dull to them. Double win

The amazing phenomenon of bird migration is the subject of several theories regarding how these brave explorers decide where to go and how to return home. According to one theory, birds use the magnetic fields of Earth as their own personal route maps. Red light, which is at the other end of our visual spectrum, also interferes with their magnetic compass. Amazingly, it has been suggested that they can see the magnetic fields in question because of certain photoreceptive proteins called cryptochromes that are contained in their right eye, helping to keep them on the right track! That is where UV vision can come in handy.

There’s definitely more to bird vision than meets the eye, whether it’s soaring over hazardous terrain, making the most of mealtimes, or pursuing your feathered passion. Thus, the next time you feel like calling a small brown bird dull, keep in mind that to those who really matter, they might be breathtakingly beautiful! As for us, well, our perception of how birds actually see the world will sadly have to stay a fantasy!

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About the author: Ana Kores Maiken, our social media whiz and copywriter, is in charge of all the instructive captions and bird puns. She occasionally records audio for our Bird Buddy blog. Favorite bird: bearded reedling!.

How does seeing in the ultraviolet wavelength help birds?

Scientists have many theories, including that their vision helps birds:

UV rays give some birds showier plumage.

Generally speaking, male birds are more vivid and showy, while females are more subdued and have camouflaging features. Despite this, males and females of many songbird species are indistinguishable from one another. Or so we thought, in our human-centric mindsets.

It turns out that in many lookalike species, the male gets to show off after all because his feathers actually reflect UV light. Because of this, he has a “pop” of color that humans (and predators) cannot see.

What do birds look like through a UV-enhanced lens? The male American Robin sports a deep purple breast instead of the familiar rusty orange and the European Starling is transformed into a dazzling artist’s fantasy, dressed in bold colors and metallic glints.


What does it look like to see as a bird?

Birds see more colours than humans as they perceive parts of the ultraviolet (UV) spectrum that are invisible to our eyes. Along with this, they have better visual acuity and can filter wavelengths to establish subtle differences between similar shades of colour, shades that humans cannot distinguish.

Which way do birds look?

So when a bird wants to look at something it has a choice: It can look straight ahead with its temporal foveas, to the left with the central fovea of its left eye, or to the right with the central fovea of its right eye. And this is not a hypothetical possibility: Birds actually do switch between foveas all the time!

What birds look like to each other?

So as colorful as many birds seem to us, they probably look even more dazzling to each other. And, interestingly, this means that some species have differences between males and females that we can’t see.

What are 3 characteristics of birds?

They have three characteristics that distinguish them from other animals: feathers; hard-shelled eggs; and hollow bones. Like mammals, birds are warm-blooded, meaning that their body temperature stays the same no matter how hot or cold it is outside.