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Spatial and Temporal Resolution of the Visual System of the Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna) Relative to Other Birds

Hummingbirds are an emerging model for studies of the visual guidance of flight. However, basic properties of their visual systems, such as spatial and temporal visual resolution, have not been characterized. We measured both the spatial and temporal visual resolution of Anna’s hummingbirds using behavioral experiments and anatomical estimates. Spatial visual resolution was determined behaviorally using the optocollic reflex and anatomically using peak retinal ganglion cell densities from retinal whole mounts and eye size. Anna’s hummingbirds have a spatial visual resolution of 5–6 cycles per degree when measured behaviorally, which matches anatomical estimates (fovea: 6.26±0.12 cycles per degree; area temporalis: 5.59±0.15 cycles per degree; and whole eye average: 4.64±0.08). To determine temporal visual resolution, we used an operant conditioning paradigm wherein hummingbirds were trained to use a flickering light to find a food reward. The limits of temporal visual resolution were estimated as 70–80 Hz. To compare Anna’s hummingbirds with other bird species, we used a phylogenetically controlled analysis of previously published data on avian visual resolutions and body size. Our measurements for Anna’s hummingbird vision fall close to and below predictions based on body size for spatial visual resolution and temporal visual resolution, respectively. These results indicate that the enhanced flight performance and foraging behaviors of hummingbirds do not require enhanced spatial or temporal visual resolution. This finding is important for interpreting flight control studies and contributes to a growing understanding of avian vision.