, Volume 199, Issue 4, pp 263-277
Date: 12 Feb 2013

Interspecific differences in the visual system and scanning behavior of three forest passerines that form heterospecific flocks

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Little is known as to how visual systems and visual behaviors vary within guilds in which species share the same micro-habitat types but use different foraging tactics. We studied different dimensions of the visual system and scanning behavior of Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice, and white-breasted nuthatches, which are tree foragers that form heterospecific flocks during the winter. All species had centro-temporally located foveae that project into the frontal part of the lateral visual field. Visual acuity was the highest in nuthatches, intermediate in titmice, and the lowest in chickadees. Chickadees and titmice had relatively wide binocular fields with a high degree of eye movement right above their short bills probably to converge their eyes while searching for food. Nuthatches had narrower binocular fields with a high degree of eye movement below their bills probably to orient the fovea toward the trunk while searching for food. Chickadees and titmice had higher scanning (e.g., head movement) rates than nuthatches probably due to their wider blind areas that limit visual coverage. The visual systems of these three species seem tuned to the visual challenges posed by the different foraging and scanning strategies that facilitate the partitioning of resources within this guild.