Small passerines can discriminate ultraviolet surface colours

Vision Res. 1994 Jun;34(11):1535-9. doi: 10.1016/0042-6989(94)90155-4.


Hollow-dwelling passerine birds were tested for UV surface colour discrimination by using the instinct to bring food to nestlings that makes a bird search for the nest under changing conditions. The experiments were carried out on breeding pairs of pied flycatcher (Muscicapa hypoleuca), great tit (Parus major) and tree sparrow (Passer montanus) in the wild by the method of alternative choice of entrance into a double nesting-box with the nestlings in one or the other section. The entrances were marked with sheets of painted papers that had different reflectances in UV. For a human observer, all marks looked achromatic. Birds were trained to discriminate the mark coloured with UV-absorbing paint from a neutral one (with equal reflectance throughout the spectrum). Birds easily learned to search for the UV-absorbing mark, and transferred the acquired habit when tested with new marks that differed only slightly from the initial ones in lightness to eliminate brightness cues.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Color Perception / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology
  • Female
  • Male
  • Nesting Behavior / physiology
  • Ultraviolet Rays*