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Can Cockatoos See In The Dark?

Cockatoos, often called the love sponge of the bird community, use their senses differently from humans. This includes their sense of sight which, while similar to human sight, they use in different ways. Cockatoos see four pigments while humans only see three. What does that extra pigment get a cockatoo?

The extra pigment does not allow cockatoos the ability to see in the dark. Cockatoos see about as well in the dark as humans do, which is to say, not very well. A cockatoo’s vision has a lot of benefits but seeing in the dark is not one of them.

As well as the extra pigment, they see more images per second than humans do. Read on to find all about a cockatoo’s vision, as well as other details about this fascinating creature.

A Cockatoo’s Night Vision (Or Lack Thereof)

Cockatoos have better color vision than human have, due to the extra pigment mentioned above. Cockatoos have  four light-sensitive pigments in the retina of their eyes. Each pigment is activated by a different wavelength of light. The wavelength produces signals in the cockatoo’s brain which interprets it as color.

A cockatoo’s fourth pigment allows them to see ultraviolet light which to humans is invisible. Here’s how that works – humans have three color cones in their eyes, allowing them to see three pigments:

  • Red
    • Blue
    • Green

A mixture of those pigments makes up the array of colors as we see them. Cockatoos not only see with those three pigments but also ultraviolet (UV) light. UV light allows cockatoos to see contrasts much more intensely than we do, even within the same color.

While humans may see a green blob when they look at a cropping of trees or bushes, cockatoos can see each leaf distinctly, including the contrast between the upper and lower surfaces of the leaf.

Seeing the UV spectrum is an asset to cockatoos. Here are those and other benefits of a cockatoo’s vision:

  • Allows them to fly and hop through dense foliage with agility
    • Cockatoos see more images per second than humans do; fast movements will be seen more clearly
    • They can see almost 360 degrees around them
    • Can find insects and spiders hiding on lower surface of leaves

A downside of a cockatoo’s vision is that they can’t measure distances very well. Whereas humans can tell how far away something is, it becomes more difficult for a cockatoo.

In the wild, cockatoos use their vision to:

  • Scan for predators
    • Find food
    • Choose mates

The UV vision of cockatoos aid in all of the above. For instance, in choose mates, it is suspected that the reflection of UV light off plumage can play a part in how mates are attracted. It reinforces the brightness of the plumage that humans can see.

The incredible degree to which cockatoos can move their head would enable them to spot predators in the wild while flying. UV vision helps them detect the contrast of their food against leaves or the ground.

Vision is the most highly developed sense on a cockatoo. Cockatoos have four cones in their eyes that flow them to process pigment and each cone has a drop of oil in it to filter out certain colors. It’s this oil that gives cockatoos greater sensitivity to different color shades.

The Science Behind A Cockatoo’s Vision

Avian retinas are not like ours. Retinas on a cockatoo are flatter than humans, as the surface lies near the point of focus for all directions of incident light. The eyeball wall consists of (Source: lafeber.com):

  1. Outer Fibrous Tunic
    1. Middle Layer
    1. Inner Layer

1.         Outer Fibrous Tunic

This outer tunic maintains the shape of the eye.  It consists of the cornea and sclera. The sclera is made up of cartilage or overlapping bones. Birds make fluid in their eyes and this fluid is drained out by a sinus canal. If the sinus canal is plugged or isn’t open, it can cause glaucoma in cockatoos.

2. Middle Layer

The middle layer of a cockatoo’s eye is also called the vascular layer. It’s a continuous layer, composed of:

  • Choroid
    • Ciliary body
    • Iris

The choroid provides a significant portion of nutrition to the eye. It continues as the ciliary body and then the iris. The ciliary body has processes that are pressed firmly against the lens with its muscles. Those muscles are striated and allow birds to rapidly adjust their vision as they fly.

The iris is the colored portion of the eyeball. In male cockatoos, that color is black. Female cockatoos have a brown iris.

3. Inner Layer

The inner layer of the eye is also called the nervous or retinal layer of the eyeball. The retina of a bird is pretty thick compared to a human’s eyeball. It also doesn’t contain blood vessels so that more “pixels” are packed in to better see with.

Rods and cones are the receptors in the retina. Cones are responsible for visual acuity and color vision. Other factors that can affect visual acuity are:

  • Relatively large eye
    • Accuracy of focus on regions of retina because of the tubular shape of the eye
    • Absence of blood vessels
    • Amount of contrast between an object and its background

The central area of the retina is the place of maximal optical resolution.

Cockatoos have good vision and they need it, for several reasons, if they’re out in the wild. In captivity, cockatoos don’t get the chance to utilize their superior vision. When in captivity, how good are cockatoos as pets?

Cockatoos As Pets

Cockatoos come in two subfamilies:

  • Dark
    • White

Many people especially love the white cockatoos as pets. They range from one to two feet in length and can live an astounding 30 to 70 years. They were originally exported from Australia and the islands around Oceania.

Other features of cockatoos as pets include:

  • Lively
    • Affectionate
    • Cuddly
    • Decent speech capabilities – can mimic words
    • Beautiful plumage
    • Smart

There’s a reason cockatoos are called the love sponges of the bird community. They crave affection and need it desperately. While they are cuddly and bond closely to their owner, it can be a problem if you don’t give them regular, undivided attention.

Without that affection, cockatoos can become neurotic or depressed. They can scream, even words that you’ve taught them. They can do it at odd hours or incessantly. And when they scream, they scream loudly. If you live in an apartment or in close proximity to neighbors, a screaming cockatoo can be a large annoyance. 

Cockatoos can become phobic and begin plucking their own feathers as well as screaming. Much of this is caused by separation anxiety. In the wild, cockatoos often stay with their parents until the next breeding season, giving them a chance to get all the nurturing they need. In captivity, cockatoos sometimes don’t have that luxury.

The Final Word

Cockatoos, when properly raised and socialized, can make a wonderful companion. If you do choose one, make sure you put in the time to give it all the cuddles and attention it desires.

While cockatoos don’t have night vision, their vision is superior to humans and is fascinating since they can see the UV spectrum where humans can’t. Their vision enables them to seek out prey and fly through foliage while keeping an eye out for any predators.

They are wonderful birds when treated properly and can be a good addition to any household.