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J Vis. 2011 Jun 2;11(7):2. doi: 10.1167/11.7.2.

The spatial tuning of achromatic and chromatic vision in budgerigars.

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Department of Biology, Lund University, Lund, Sweden.


Birds are assumed to use half of their cones (double cones) to detect fine spatial detail while their other half (single cones) is used for color vision. However, the spatial resolution of the color pathway in birds has never been studied. We determined the spatial contrast sensitivity to achromatic and isoluminant red-green and blue-green color gratings in budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulatus). Contrast sensitivity to achromatic gratings has band-pass characteristics while that for red-green and blue-green gratings has low-pass properties. Maximum sensitivity is lower to blue-green than to red-green gratings and the acuity for both color gratings is less than half (ca. 4.5 cycles/degree) of that for achromatic gratings (ca. 10 cycles/degree). This suggests that achromatic vision in birds, as in humans and bees, is tuned for detecting fine detail while chromatic vision is tuned for viewing larger fields. Similar to humans, blue-sensitive cones contribute little to spatial vision. Moreover, budgerigars detected gratings having both achromatic and chromatic contrasts more reliably at high spatial frequencies than gratings with either of these contrasts, suggesting that the single and double cone pathways are incompletely separated. The study demonstrates the importance of the spatial dimension of color vision; fine patterns remain unresolved even if they present large color contrasts.

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