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J Comp Physiol A. 1992 Jun;170(5):565-74.

The refractive development of the eye of the American kestrel (Falco sparverius): a new avian model.

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School of Optometry, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.


Most measures of avian visual performance are carried out on commonly available domestic species such as the chicken, and most of the data on avian induced refractive error deals with chickens. Raptors are predatory birds in which good visual resolving ability is particularly important. Behavioral studies indicate that the eyes of raptors have two to three times the resolving ability of the human eye. The domestic chicken is precocial at hatching whereas most raptors are semi-altricial. This study was an effort to determine if the effect of early visual deprivation on the refractive development of the chicken eye can be reproduced in the American kestrel, a species which is not domesticated and in which the need for acute vision is particularly important. Visual deprivation was achieved by unilaterally applying translucent plastic goggles over the eyes of kestrels two days after hatching. Refractive error was measured using a retinoscope and trial lenses. Ocular growth was monitored by A-scan ultrasonography, and frozen ocular sections of sacrificed birds. The effect of the experimental manipulation on the contralateral control eye and body weight was evaluated each day over a 42-day period. The goggles did not significantly affect the normal changes in body weight or the normal pattern of ocular growth and refractive development in the untreated eyes. An analysis of the refractive state changes as a result of form deprivation was made each week for 6 weeks after hatching on both the treated and untreated eyes in a separate group of experimental birds. Visual form deprivation caused a significant myopic shift in refractive error and a significant increase in the vitreous chamber depth in the treated eyes at 3 and 6 weeks of age. However, the amount of myopia produced is much less than that induced in chicks, and in certain cases hyperopia is produced. The kestrels recover from myopia and hyperopia within 10 days of goggle removal, after 3 to 4 weeks of deprivation. This study is the first indication that chickens may not be a representative bird model for studying form-deprivation myopia. First, myopia is not always produced in kestrels in response to form deprivation. Second, kestrels are severely myopic at hatching and therefore, the direction of emmetropization is opposite to that found in hatchling chicks.

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