How birds use their eyes: Opposite left-right specialization for the lateral and frontal visual hemifield in the domestic chick

Curr Biol. 2001 Jan 9;11(1):29-33. doi: 10.1016/s0960-9822(00)00027-0.


Recent evidence has demonstrated that, in animals with laterally placed eyes, functional cerebral asymmetry is revealed by preferential use of either the left or right eye in a range of behaviors (birds: [1, 2, 3]; fish: [4, 5]; reptiles: [6, 7]). These findings pose a theoretical problem. It seems that there would be disadvantages in having a substantial degree of asymmetry in the use of the two eyes; a deficit on one side would leave the organism vulnerable to attack on that side or unable to exploit resources appearing on one side. We here report a possible solution to the problem. We have found that domestic chicks show selective use of the lateral visual field of the left eye and of the right hemifield in the binocular, frontal visual field when they peck at strangers but not at cagemates. Thus, during social recognition, there seems to be opposite and complementary left-right specialization for the lateral and frontal visual fields of the two eyes. These findings can reconcile the computational advantages associated with asymmetry of the left and right sides of the brain with the ecological demands for an animal to perceive and respond equally well to the left and right sides of its midline.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chickens / physiology*
  • Eye*
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology*
  • Visual Fields / physiology*