Cookie use on MRCVSonline
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue without changing your settings, we will assume that you are happy to receive all cookies.
If you would like to forward this story on to a friend, simply fill in the form below and click send.

Your friend's email:
Your email:
Your name:
Send Cancel

Birds see colour in a similar way to humans, study suggests
Zebra finches separate red and orange shades into two separate categories, much like humans do.
Researchers test zebra finches’ ability to distinguish between colours

A study by US researchers has revealed that birds may see colour in a similar way to humans.

Researchers from Duke University devised an experiment in which they tested the ability of zebra finches to distinguish between different colours.

The study, published in Nature, found that zebra finches separate red and orange shades into two separate categories, much like humans do.

Previous research found that zebra finch females prefer red-beaked males to orange ones. The reason being that redness is associated with good health.

Although this study did not test if birds preferred some shades over others, it is hoped the findings may reveal information about what might happen when a female gazes at a potential mate.

In the study, researchers used combinations of eight shades representing the colour of male zebra finch beaks. They showed 26 female zebra finches a set of paper discs, some two-toned and others solid coloured.

The birds learned that by turning over a two-toned disc, they would be rewarded with a treat. If they turned over a solid disc, they wouldn’t receive anything. If a bird picked a particular disc first, it was a sign that it recognised it as having two colours instead of one.

The experiment involved lots of different colour pairs, but researchers found that females had no trouble identifying colour pairs that were far apart on the colour spectrum (E.g. very red or very orange). When the birds had to choose between various shades in between, however, their reaction was not so clear.

Researchers note the ability to lump all shades on one side of a certain redness threshold may indicate that, when it comes to beak colour, females may not be picky about whether a potential mate is perfect.

“What we’re showing is: he’s either red enough or not,” said senior author and Duke biology professor Stephen Nowicki.

It is not yet understood if the threshold between what humans perceive as “orange” versus “red” is the same for birds. However, researchers say the finding lends support to the idea that colour labels are rooted in biology, and are not shaped by human culture or language.

Become a member or log in to add this story to your CPD history

Registrations open for overseas veterinary professionals course

News Story 1
 Registrations are now open for the RCVS CPD course for overseas veterinary professionals, which covers an introduction to the UK veterinary professions.

The course is aimed at overseas-qualified veterinary surgeons and nurses during their first two years of working in the UK, in addition to those considering working here. It provides graduates with the key information and skills required to practice in the UK, as well as helping them understand their legal duties as veterinary professionals.

For more information and to book your place please click here. The course will be held at Belgravia House, London, on Wednesday 12 June.  

Click here for more...
News Shorts
BVA launches award to celebrate young vets

A new award has been launched to celebrate inspirational young vets who are making a difference in their day to day work.

Nominations are now open for the BVA Young Vet of the Year Award, which is the first of its kind. It is open to all vets registered with the RCVS in the first eight years of their careers, working in any veterinary sphere, including clinical practice, research, education or veterinary politics. Organisers are looking for an ‘exceptional young vet’ whose work has benefitted the veterinary community or the workplace.

The awards are open for self-entry and nominations by 1 August 2019. The winner will be announced at London Vet Show on 14 November 2019, where a £1000 cash prize will be awarded, alongside a ‘career enhancing experience’ with Zoetis.