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J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2010 Jan;196(1):15-22. doi: 10.1007/s00359-009-0488-6. Epub 2009 Nov 18.

Visual fields, eye movements, and scanning behavior of a sit-and-wait predator, the black phoebe (Sayornis nigricans).

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Department of Biological Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907, USA.


Foraging mode influences the dominant sensory modality used by a forager and likely the strategies of information gathering used in foraging and anti-predator contexts. We assessed three components of visual information gathering in a sit-and-wait avian predator, the black phoebe (Sayornis nigricans): configuration of the visual field, degree of eye movement, and scanning behavior through head-movement rates. We found that black phoebes have larger lateral visual fields than similarly sized ground-foraging passerines, as well as relatively narrower binocular and blind areas. Black phoebes moved their eyes, but eye movement amplitude was relatively smaller than in other passerines. Black phoebes may compensate for eye movement constraints with head movements. The rate of head movements increased before attacking prey in comparison to non-foraging contexts and before movements between perches. These findings suggest that black phoebes use their lateral visual fields, likely subtended by areas of high acuity in the retina, to track prey items in a three-dimensional space through active head movements. These head movements may increase depth perception, motion detection and tracking. Studying information gathering through head movement changes, rather than body posture changes (head-up, head-down) as generally presented in the literature, may allow us to better understand the mechanisms of information gathering from a comparative perspective.

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