Chicken colour discrimination depends on background colour

Peter Olsson, Robin D. Johnsson, James J. Foster, John D. Kirwan, Olle Lind, Almut Kelber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


How well can a bird discriminate between two red berries on a green background? The absolute threshold of colour discrimination is set by photoreceptor noise, but animals do not perform at this threshold; their performance can depend on additional factors. In humans and zebra finches, discrimination thresholds for colour stimuli depend on background colour, and thus the adaptive state of the visual system. We have tested how well chickens can discriminate shades of orange or green presented on orange or green backgrounds. Chickens discriminated slightly smaller colour differences between two stimuli presented on a similarly coloured background, compared with a background of very different colour. The slope of the psychometric function was steeper when stimulus and background colours were similar but shallower when they differed markedly, indicating that background colour affects the certainty with which the animals discriminate the colours. The effect we find for chickens is smaller than that shown for zebra finches. We modelled the response to stimuli using Bayesian and maximum likelihood estimation and implemented the psychometric function to estimate the effect size. We found that the result is independent of the psychophysical method used to evaluate the effect of experimental conditions on choice performance.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberjeb209429
JournalThe Journal of experimental biology
Issue number24
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Zoology

Free keywords

  • Adaptation
  • Bird vision
  • Colour vision
  • Psychometric function
  • Visual ecology


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