Anatomical Specializations Related to Foraging in the Visual System of a Nocturnal Insectivorous Bird, the Band-Winged Nightjar (Aves: Caprimulgiformes)

Brain Behav Evol. 2019;94(1-4):27-36. doi: 10.1159/000504162. Epub 2019 Nov 21.


Nocturnal animals that rely on their visual system for foraging, mating, and navigation usually exhibit specific traits associated with living in scotopic conditions. Most nocturnal birds have several visual specializations, such as enlarged eyes and an increased orbital convergence. However, the actual role of binocular vision in nocturnal foraging is still debated. Nightjars (Aves: Caprimulgidae) are predators that actively pursue and capture flying insects in crepuscular and nocturnal environments, mainly using a conspicuous "sit-and-wait" tactic on which pursuit begins with an insect flying over the bird that sits on the ground. In this study, we describe the visual system of the band-winged nightjar (Systellura longirostris), with emphasis on anatomical features previously described as relevant for nocturnal birds. Orbit convergence, determined by 3D scanning of the skull, was 73.28°. The visual field, determined by ophthalmoscopic reflex, exhibits an area of maximum binocular overlap of 42°, and it is dorsally oriented. The eyes showed a nocturnal-like normalized corneal aperture/axial length index. Retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) were relatively scant, and distributed in an unusual oblique-band pattern, with higher concentrations in the ventrotemporal quadrant. Together, these results indicate that the band-winged nightjar exhibits a retinal specialization associated with the binocular area of their dorsal visual field, a relevant area for pursuit triggering and prey attacks. The RGC distribution observed is unusual among birds, but similar to that of some visually dependent insectivorous bats, suggesting that those features might be convergent in relation to feeding strategies.

Keywords: Binocularity; Caprimulgiformes; Retinal ganglion cells; Scotopic; Visual fields.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Birds / anatomy & histology
  • Birds / physiology
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Orbit / anatomy & histology*
  • Retina / physiology
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / physiology
  • Skull
  • Strigiformes / anatomy & histology
  • Strigiformes / physiology
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology*
  • Visual Fields