Visual fields in Short-toed Eagles, Circaetus gallicus (Accipitridae), and the function of binocularity in birds

Brain Behav Evol. 1999;53(2):55-66. doi: 10.1159/000006582.


Visual fields were determined in alert restrained birds using an ophthalmoscopic reflex technique. The region of binocular overlap is relatively small: maximum width of 20 degrees occurs approximately 15 degrees below the horizontal, and the field extends vertically through 80 degrees with the bill tip placed close to the centre. Monocular field width in the horizontal plane is 139 degrees, and the field is asymmetric about the optic axis. The cyclopean field extends through 260 degrees, and the blind area above and behind the head reaches maximum width of 100 degrees close to the horizontal. At the frontal margins of the monocular field the retinal and optical fields do not coincide; the retinal field margin lies approximately 10 degrees inside the optical margin. This gives rise to an apparent binocular field that is twice the width of the functional binocular field. Interspecific comparisons show that the binocular field of Short-toed Eagles is similar in shape and size to those of bird species that differ markedly in phylogeny, ecology, foraging technique, and eye size. This suggests that these relatively narrow binocular fields are a convergent feature of birds whose foraging is guided by visual cues irrespective of whether items are taken directly in the bill or in the feet, as in eagles, and irrespective of the size and shape of the monocular and cyclopean visual fields. It is argued that binocular vision in birds results from the requirement for each monocular field to extend contralaterally to embody a portion of the optical flow field which is radially symmetrical about the direction of travel. This is in contrast to functional explanations of binocularity, such as those concerned with stereopsis, which present it as a means of extracting higher order information through the combination of two monocular images of the same portion of a scene.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Appetitive Behavior / physiology*
  • Eagles / physiology*
  • Retina / physiology
  • Species Specificity
  • Strigiformes / physiology
  • Vision Disparity / physiology
  • Vision, Binocular / physiology*
  • Visual Fields / physiology*