Development of the Visual System in a Burrow-Nesting Seabird: Leach's Storm Petrel

Mindaugas Mitkus, Gabrielle A. Nevitt, Almut Kelber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Little is known about the development of vision in wild birds. It is unknown, for example, whether the ability to see can be predicted by the level of prenatal growth or whether the eyes are open at hatching in a particular species. In this study, we investigated the growth of eyes, the formation of retinal ganglion cell topography, and the appearance of simple, visually guided behaviours in chicks of a small procellariiform seabird, Leach's storm petrel (Oceanodroma leucorhoa). This semi-precocial species, which has a well-developed sense of smell, nests in underground burrows where adults provision chicks for 6-8 weeks in the dark before fledging. Retinal ganglion cell topographic maps revealed that fine-tuning of cell distribution does not happen early in development, but rather that the ganglion cell layer continues to mature throughout provisioning and probably even after fledging. While the olfactory bulbs reached adult size around 7 weeks after hatching, the eyes and telencephalon continued to grow. Optokinetic head response and artificial burrow finding experiments indicated that chicks in the 2nd week after hatching lack even the most basic visually guided behaviours and are probably blind. Thus, vision in Leach's storm petrel chicks starts to function sometime around the 3rd week after hatching, well after the eyes have opened and the olfactory system is functional.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4-16
JournalBrain, Behavior and Evolution
Issue number1
Early online date2017 Dec 7
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Developmental Biology

Free keywords

  • Bird vision
  • Eye growth
  • Leach’s storm petrel
  • Olfactory bulbs
  • Retinal ganglion cells
  • Visual development


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