Overt attention toward oriented objects in free-viewing barn owls

Wolf Maximilian Harmening, Julius Orlowski, Ohad Ben-Shahar, Hermann Wagner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Visual saliency based on orientation contrast is a perceptual product attributed to the functional organization of the mammalian brain. We examined this visual phenomenon in barn owls by mounting a wireless video microcamera on the owls' heads and confronting them with visual scenes that contained one differently oriented target among similarly oriented distracters. Without being confined by any particular task, the owls looked significantly longer, more often, and earlier at the target, thus exhibiting visual search strategies so far demonstrated in similar conditions only in primates. Given the considerable differences in phylogeny and the structure of visual pathways between owls and humans, these findings suggest that orientation saliency has computational optimality in a wide variety of ecological contexts, and thus constitutes a universal building block for efficient visual information processing in general.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)8461-8466
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number20
StatePublished - 17 May 2011


  • Avian vision
  • Feature search
  • Gaze map
  • Pop-out
  • Visual behavior

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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