There’s a lot to learn about birds and how they differ from humans and other warm-blooded mammals. One thing that you might be wondering is if birds are color blind.
Are birds color blind? Well, you might be surprised to learn that birds can actually see more colors than humans can. Apart from the three primary colors of red, blue and green that we see, birds can also see ultraviolet. The only birds that are color blind are nocturnal birds like owls.
Nocturnal birds have a reflector in the back of their retina that actually reflects light. That’s how these birds can see so well in the dark.
Let’s discover why birds can see so much better than we can.
- 1 The Colors That Birds Can See
- 2 How Seeing Ultraviolet Light Is A Benefit To Birds
- 3 How This Knowledge Of How Birds See Color Can Help Us
- 4 Frequently Asked Questions:
- 5 Final Thoughts
The Colors That Birds Can See
Most birds can see all the colors that the human eye can see. Plus, they can also see parts of the ultraviolet spectrum that our eyes cannot distinguish. This means that birds are able to distinguish all the subtle differences between shades of color whereas we cannot.
There are cells in each eye called cones. These cones are in the retina and are responsible for color detection. Humans only have three color detecting cones while birds have four.
In a bird’s eye, each cone contains a drop of oil. This filters out certain colors. This amazing visual ability allows birds to see color contrasts in their surroundings much more easily.
Birds that are active during the day are called diurnal birds. These birds also seem to have the best color sense of all the bird species. On the other hand, nocturnal birds have rod cells in their eyes. These allow the bird’s eyes to capture more light so that they can see really well in the dark. However, these birds are not able to see colors very clearly.
How Seeing Ultraviolet Light Is A Benefit To Birds
The ability to see ultraviolet light allows birds to distinguish different objects much more effectively especially from a long distance away. Here’s how seeing ultraviolet light helps birds:
It Allows Them To Find Food More Easily
Fruits like berries have a waxy coating. This coating reflects ultraviolet light and makes the berries and other small fruits really stand out amidst the green foliage. This allows birds to find these berries more easily.
Other food sources such as flowers and certain insects also reflect these UV rays. This may be one of the reasons that birds favor certain food sources over others. They might just be more easy to find.
It Allows Raptors To Track Their Prey
Small rodents such as mice mark their territory with their urine. This is visible in ultraviolet light and this allows eagles and falcons to easily track where these rodents have been and follow their trail.
It Helps Birds To Select A Mate
Some bird species have different features that distinguish males from females. Sometimes these features can only be seen under ultraviolet light. For example, the male blue tit has a prominent crown that can only be seen under UV rays.
It Helps Birds To Differentiate Their Own Eggs From Foreign Eggs
Under UV light, certain bird eggs look very different. Generally, these differences are not visible to the human eye. However, birds can differentiate between their own eggs and those of other birds quite easily.
When we look at a forest, all we really see is the green color of the leaves on the trees. Birds, however, see so much more color. You see, the tops of the leaves reflect ultraviolet light. Therefore, to a bird, the undersides of a leaf appear much darker than the top.
In fact, birds see the tops of the leaves as having shades of purple due to the UV reflection. Therefore, they see the foliage in 3 dimensions and with much more clarity than we can.
Being able to see the UV reflection in different objects and surroundings, means that birds see things far differently than we do. And, in much more color as well. In fact, a bird’s view is a super kaleidoscope of color that we just can’t imagine.
How This Knowledge Of How Birds See Color Can Help Us
Knowing that birds can see ultraviolet light can be quite helpful when we’re trying to attract certain species to our backyards. For instance, we could add UV reflective window decals to our windows so that birds don’t fly into them and perhaps get hurt in the process.
We could also add UV reflective elements to our bird feeders so that new visiting birds can find them more easily.
To protect visiting birds from being attacked by cats we could design pet collars that reflect UV light. This would make predators like cats more visible to birds and keep them safe.
Frequently Asked Questions:
What colors do birds see?
Birds can see all the three primary colors of blue, green and red and they can also see ultraviolet.
What color is most attractive to birds?
Different species are attracted to different colors. Hummingbird prefer red, pink, orange and yellow. However, blue jays and bluebirds prefer the color blue.
Can birds see through windows?
A bird’s vision is very different to that of a human or other mammal. They can’t perceive a window as a barrier, so images beyond the window appear like an open space.
Most birds are definitely not color blind. In fact, they can see many more colors than we can. This is because birds are able to see the ultraviolet light that reflects off many objects in their surroundings.
This makes it easier for birds to forage for food from a great distance as they’re flying overhead. It also allows raptors to easily track their prey and for many bird species to more easily distinguish males from females.
Nocturnal birds are the only birds that don’t have this exceptional color vision. This is because their eyes are designed to see in the dark.