Selective attention in peacocks during predator detection


Predation can exert strong selective pressure on the evolution of behavioral and morphological traits in birds. Because predator avoidance is key to survival and birds rely heavily on visual perception, predation may have shaped avian visual systems as well. To address this question, we examined the role of visual attention in antipredator behavior in peacocks (Pavo cristatus). Peacocks were exposed to a model predator while their gaze was continuously recorded with a telemetric eye-tracker. We found that peacocks spent more time looking at and made more fixations on the predator compared to the same spatial location before the predator was revealed. The duration of fixations they directed toward conspecifics and environmental features decreased after the predator was revealed, indicating that the peacocks were rapidly scanning their environment with their eyes. Maximum eye movement amplitudes and amplitudes of consecutive saccades were similar before and after the predator was revealed. In cases where conspecifics detected the predator first, peacocks appeared to learn that danger was present by observing conspecifics’ antipredator behavior. Peacocks were faster to detect the predator when they were fixating closer to the area where the predator would eventually appear. In addition, pupil size increased after predator exposure, consistent with increased physiological arousal. These findings demonstrate that peacocks selectively direct their attention toward predatory threats and suggest that predation has influenced the evolution of visual orienting systems.

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We thank Gail Patricelli for helpful discussion and Jason Babcock for assistance with the eye-tracker. Peter and Martha Klopfer allowed the birds to be housed on their farm. This research was funded by a National Science Foundation graduate research fellowship, an Animal Behaviour Society Student Research Grant, the Animal Behavior Graduate Group at UC Davis, the Chapman Memorial Fund, a grant-in-aid of research from the National Academy of Sciences (administered by Sigma-Xi, The Scientific Research Society), Gail Patricelli (through UC Davis), a Philanthropic Educational Organization Scholar Award, and a National Geographic Society/Waitt Foundation grant to J.L.Y. The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and Duke Lemur Center provided funding to M.L.P.

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Correspondence to Jessica L. Yorzinski.

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Yorzinski, J.L., Platt, M.L. Selective attention in peacocks during predator detection. Anim Cogn 17, 767–777 (2014).

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  • Attention
  • Eye movements
  • Eye-tracking
  • Peafowl
  • Predation
  • Pupil dilation