James Harris, DVM
Parrots don't have good night vision
Can an African grey see well at night? A bird belonging to a member of our bird club escaped its cage during the night. It was found perched on a light that was left on, which made us wonder if she couldn't find her way back to the cage because a parrot's eyesight is poor at night.
MOST PARROTS SEE about as well at night as we do - which is not very well. Certainly not as well as nocturnal birds that hunt at night, such as the owl. Nature has modified the shape, structure and size of the owl's eyes to see at night. The eyes are large, compressed front to back and have a reflective retina, all of which aid in collecting as much available light as possible. Most parrots are diurnal, which means they are active during the day.
When it comes to parrots' daytime vision, in general it's the same as other birds'; in other words, much better than ours. Vision is a bird's primary sense. Birds' eyes are much larger in proportion to their size than mammals' eyes and designed to see detail at a distance. The best example is the eagle, which can see a mouse on the ground half a mile or more away.
It's possible the African grey couldn't find his way back to the cage, or he may have been seeking warmth and was attracted to the lit light. A note of caution: Keep hot light bulbs covered so your bird doesn't land on them and burn himself.
James Harris, DVM is owner and medical director of the Mayfair Veterinary Clinic in Sandy Bay, Tasmania, Australia. He founded Montclair Veterinary Hospital in Oakland, Calif., and has served as medical director and chairman of the board for the International Bird Rescue Research Center in Berkeley. Dr. Harris' numerous professional honors include California and National Bustad Companion Animal DVM Awards.
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