Eagle flies over Paris with Sony Action Cam Mini

YouTube video still


We say we get a "bird's eye view" of a city or countryside when when we're looking down from a tall building or an airplane. But are we seeing what birds see?

In fact, in all the years that scientists have studied birds, dogs, cats, and other animals, we still don't know what the images in their brains look like as they see - if the pictures in their heads are the same as ours. But we do know that they 'see' differently from humans.

Graham R. Martin, Professor Emeritus Professor and Ornithologist at the University of Birmingham, UK, illustrates this point brilliantly by referring to a Sony Action Mini Cam commercial of an eagle flying over Paris with a mini-cam strapped to its back.



We know that the eagle can capture our vision of his flight with a Mini-Cam, but we don't how the eagle is processing these same images. We know that birds have visual abilities that are different from humans' visual abilities, so we have to assume that their visual images are different - perhaps quite different. In fact, birds don't even see or perceive the same images as other species of bird.

Here's what we know....

Most birds have visual acuity far greater than humans.


Great horned owl

Owls have the best night vision (image)


Birds have both binocular and monocular vision, meaning that they can see straight ahead with both eyes as humans do, as well as from either side of their heads.

What a bird sees well often depends on the placement of his eyes. Different species of birds have eyes that are close together, some further apart, some on the sides of their heads, or others more to the center of their heads. Placement as well as acuity is related to what and how birds hunt and how birds protect themselves.


Parrots & rabbits can see 360 degrees around themselves

Parrots and rabbits can see 360º around them (Photo)


Parrots and rabbits can see 360º around them, a definite advantage over their predators. Their eyes can also work independent of each other, making it possible to see two predators at once (source).

Bird survival is indeed guided by their visual acuity. Take hunting, for example:

  • Eagles have rods and cones, which let in available light and enable them to see color exceptionally well. They also have great visual acuity making them the best daytime hunters.
  • An owl is the best avian nighttime hunter. He has more rods than cones, making his eyes widen to allow more light in and he becomes a flying flashlight searching for rodents, snakes, and other birds.  An owl's eyes are positioned on the front of his face, making for excellent binocular vision. Owls can see during the day, but not too well, and they don't distinguish colors very well.
  • Eyes positioned on the side of the head make for better mono-vision, as in the American Robin, who finds food on the ground by tilting his head to the side.


American woodcock

 American woodcock (image)


  • American woodcocks have eyes near the back of their heads and can see behind themselves! (See image above.)
  • Seabirds, like albatrosses and seagulls, have red or yellow droplets in their eyes to enable them to dull the glare of the sea so they can hunt for fish through the ocean waters.


Most Birds See Colors And UV Light


Birds see ultra-violet light

image via National Wildlife Federation


From the magazine image you see above, you know right away that birds aren't seeing the same colors we see. This is because most birds, except maybe night hunters, see ultra-violet light. They might not see in all shades of purple as the image indicates; exactly what colors birds see is determined at least partially by available light. But the point is, they see color, but not the same way we see it.

Most backyard birds are drawn to bright colors like red, orange, and pink. These are colors you want to use in your flowering backyard plants. Yellow is a favorite for many and blue happens to be a favorite for blue jays! Stay away from white if you want to attract birds. Various plant and animal surfaces reveal UV traits. Bugs, worms, and various other bird meals have UV materials in their coloring, which we can't see, but are spotted by birds.

Ornithologists tell us that color is a factor in avian mating choices - the brighter and more colorful the male, the more attractive he is to female birds. And it's not the early bird that gets the first worm from his mother; it's the most colorful bird. And UV colors in eggs and chicks are the most fetching.


Humans can take photographs and Mini Cams of spectacles, but we certainly don't have 'bird's eye views' of them. Maybe someday we'll know what a bird view is... and a dog view... etc.


sourcesOUPBlog, Drummundwi.com, National Wildlife Federation, Audobon.org,


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5+ Window Feeders To Delight Birds And Your Family Year-Round

Just What Nature Ordered: The Bird Bath Hanging Planter


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