Avian visual behavior and the organization of the telencephalon

Toru Shimizu, Tadd B. Patton, Scott A. Husband

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


Birds have excellent visual abilities that are comparable or superior to those of primates, but how the bird brain solves complex visual problems is poorly understood. More specifically, we lack knowledge about how such superb abilities are used in nature and how the brain, especially the telencephalon, is organized to process visual information. Here we review the results of several studies that examine the organization of the avian telencephalon and the relevance of visual abilities to avian social and reproductive behavior. Video playback and photographic stimuli show that birds can detect and evaluate subtle differences in local facial features of potential mates in a fashion similar to that of primates. These techniques have also revealed that birds do not attend well to global configural changes in the face, suggesting a fundamental difference between birds and primates in face perception. The telencephalon plays a major role in the visual and visuo-cognitive abilities of birds and primates, and anatomical data suggest that these animals may share similar organizational characteristics in the visual telencephalon. As is true in the primate cerebral cortex, different visual features are processed separately in the avian telencephalon where separate channels are organized in the anterior-posterior axis roughly parallel to the major laminae. Furthermore, the efferent projections from the primary visual telencephalon form an extensive column-like continuum involving the dorsolateral pallium and the lateral basal ganglia. Such a column-like organization may exist not only for vision, but for other sensory modalities and even for a continuum that links sensory and limbic areas of the avian brain. Behavioral and neural studies must be integrated in order to understand how birds have developed their amazing visual systems through 150 million years of evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)204-217
Number of pages14
JournalBrain, Behavior and Evolution
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Birds
  • Columnar organization
  • Courtship
  • Parallel processing
  • Pigeons

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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