UV Vision in Budgerigars

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Did you know that budgerigars, Melopsittacus undulatus — erroneously known as “parakeets” in the United States — can see UV light? Did you know that female budgerigars rely on the UV reflectance to judge the quality of potential mates? This is a fascinating little trailer about wild budgerigars from the Nature program Parrots in the Land of Oz, which airs on PBS on 19, 20 and 21 October [1:43]

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About GrrlScientist

grrlscientist is the pseudonym of an evolutionary biologist and ornithologist who writes about evolution, ethology, and ecology, especially in birds. After earning a degree in microbiology (thesis focus: virology) and working at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, she earned her PhD in zoology from the University of Washington in Seattle, where she studied the molecular correlates of testosterone and behaviour in white-crowned sparrows. She then worked a Chapman Postdoctoral Fellow at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where she studied the speciation and distribution of lories and other parrots throughout the South Pacific Islands. A discarded scientist, she returned to her roots: writing. Formerly hosted by The Guardian (UK), she now writes about science for Forbes and for the non-profit think tank, the Evolution Institute and she writes podcasts for BirdNote Radio. An avid lifelong birder and aviculturist, she lives with a flock of songbirds and parrots somewhere in Germany.
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0 Responses to UV Vision in Budgerigars

  1. Arikia says:

    I was confused when the narrator mentioned the bit about how budgies can see UV light. Can’t nearly all birds? I read an article a few years ago in Science that explained how the common ancestor of birds and mammals had 3 cones, then birds evolved a fourth type of cone that enabled them to see UV light, whereas mammals lost one and only primates evolved one back giving them three about. Hence the misconception about why dogs are color blind — they can see colors, just not as many because they only have 2 kinds of cones.
    So basically, what I don’t get is why the announcer said this specifically about budgies like they have a magic power that is unique to them in the bird world? Any thoughts?

  2. well, it is likely that most (all?) birds can see UV light, but we cannot say that for sure because we have not investigated this for all bird species. but nonetheless, most people are unaware of birds’ ability to actually see UV light reflectance, unless they’ve watched The Life of Birds or this program.

  3. llewelly says:

    I read an article a few years ago in Science that explained how the common ancestor of birds and mammals had 3 cones,

    But other than primates, almost all modern mammals are dichromates (2 types of cones). So I’m skeptical of the idea that the common ancestor of birds and mammals had 3 types of cones.

  4. Arikia says:

    Skepticism is good.
    The theory to explain this is that our mammalian ancestors spent a great deal of time living underground to avoid unfavorable atmospheric conditions, while the ancestors of birds remained above ground. The birds then, found it advantageous to have a fourth cone, while mammals in the dark really had no need for three cones and lost one with out fitness-related consequences.

  5. ringo says:

    But *I* can see UV light. What does this mean?