Avian colour vision and avian video playback experiments

Innes C. Cuthill*, Nathan S. Hart, Julian C. Partridge, Andrew T D Bennett, Sarah Hunt, Stuart C. Church

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


Video playback potentially allows the presentation, manipulation, and replication of realistic moving visual stimuli, in a way that is impossible with real animals or static dummies, and difficult even with mechanical models. However, there are special problems attached to the use of this technology; this article concentrates on the problem of accurate colour rendition. Video and television simulate the colour of objects rather than reproduce the spectrum of light that they naturally emit, transmit, or reflect. This simulation is achieved by using relatively narrow waveband light to stimulate the cone cells in the retina in a similar pattern to that produced by the natural object. However, species differ in the spectral tuning of their photoreceptors, so a faithful colour rendition for a human is unlikely to be achieved for another species. This problem is discussed with special reference to birds, a taxon renown for its colourfulness and frequent use in behavioural experiments but which has a very different colour vision from that of humans. We stress that the major pitfalls that can arise when using video playback with avian subjects can also occur in 'normal' behavioural experiments. However, the problems of faithful colour rendition are particularly severe with video, and the major benefits that the technology brings will only be realised under a limited range of circumstances, with careful validation experiments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-37
Number of pages9
JournalActa Ethologica
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Bird vision
  • Colour measurement
  • Plumage colour
  • Video playback


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