Ul­tra vi­sion de­bate

Bird Watching (UK) - - Your View -

I found Do­minic Couzens’ ar­ti­cle on Kestrels in­ter­est­ing, but was sur­prised to see him claim that they fol­low the urine of voles be­cause of their ul­tra-vi­o­let vi­sion. I re­cently heard a talk ti­tled “Through Birds’ Eyes” by Gra­ham Martin (for­mer vice-pres­i­dent of the BOU, editor of the jour­nal Bird Study, etc) and he cat­e­gor­i­cally stated that this was a myth and the orig­i­nal claim had been dis­proved. Is this true? Peter Evans, via email

QS­ci­en­tists have long thought that sev­eral species, among them Blue Tits, Buz­zards and Kestrels, have some sort of sen­si­tiv­ity to ul­travi­o­let light, and this has been shown to be true in many stud­ies. How­ever, the de­gree to which th­ese birds can ac­tu­ally ‘see’ in ul­travi­o­let is still de­bat­able. Ex­per­i­ments have in­deed shown that Kestrels are more likely to fol­low vole urine trails that are high­lighted with ul­travi­o­let light in pref­er­ence to those that were not high­lighted. This shows that the species does in­deed have the ca­pac­ity to see at least slightly in the UV part of the spec­trum, but ac­cord­ing to some more re­cent re­search this abil­ity may be of lit­tle use when it comes to hunt­ing voles whose trails have not been high­lighted. So the an­swer at the mo­ment may be that yes, Kestrels can see in ul­travi­o­let, but not well enough for it to be any real help.

A

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