Biological Cybernetics

, Volume 98, Issue 2, pp 115–132 | Cite as

Through a barn owl’s eyes: interactions between scene content and visual attention

  • Shay OhayonEmail author
  • Wolf Harmening
  • Hermann Wagner
  • Ehud Rivlin
Original Paper


In this study we investigated visual attention properties of freely behaving barn owls, using a miniature wireless camera attached to their heads. The tubular eye structure of barn owls makes them ideal subjects for this research since it limits their eye movements. Video sequences recorded from the owl’s point of view capture part of the visual scene as seen by the owl. Automated analysis of video sequences revealed that during an active search task, owls repeatedly and consistently direct their gaze in a way that brings objects of interest to a specific retinal location (retinal fixation area). Using a projective model that captures the geometry between the eye and the camera, we recovered the corresponding location in the recorded images (image fixation area). Recording in various types of environments (aviary, office, outdoors) revealed significant statistical differences of low level image properties at the image fixation area compared to values extracted at random image patches. These differences are in agreement with results obtained in primates in similar studies. To investigate the role of saliency and its contribution to drawing the owl’s attention, we used a popular bottom-up computational model. Saliency values at the image fixation area were typically greater than at random patches, yet were only 20% out of the maximal saliency value, suggesting a top-down modulation of gaze control.


Video Sequence Edge Density Luminance Contrast Scene Content Retinal Point 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shay Ohayon
    • 1
    Email author
  • Wolf Harmening
    • 2
  • Hermann Wagner
    • 2
  • Ehud Rivlin
    • 1
  1. 1.Israel Institute of Technology (Technion)HaifaIsrael
  2. 2.Institute of Biology IIRWTH UniversityAachenGermany

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