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My new bird table has a red roof but the birds will not use it. Are they colour-blind?

Sent in by Bryan Smith

Sight is the dominant sense of almost all birds and it is highly developed in most species. They need efficient eyesight to find food, identify mates or rivals and to look out for predators.

Most birds appear to have colour vision. This is shown by the spectacular plumages that many birds have to attract a mate or deter a rival. Nocturnal birds are possibly less sensitive to colour as they generally have duller plumages and it is less important to have colour vision.

Birds' colour vision is taken advantage of by plants which rely on birds to disperse their seeds. These plants have evolved berries, which become conspicuous when ripe and attract the birds to feed.

Robins are a good example of birds' sensitivity to colour. The red on the robin's breast is what provokes territorial disputes. Robins have been recorded displaying to and attacking model robins and plumes of red feathers put in their territories. There is also a record of a robin displaying to someone's red beard while they were ringing birds.

Some birds may also be able to see ultraviolet light. For example, kestrels are thought to be able to see routes regularly used by rodents. These rodent runs are marked with urine, which is visible in ultraviolet light. The kestrel can then search a large area more quickly and wait where the rodents are most active.

A bright red bird table would be highly visible to foraging birds so would get their attention. It can take birds a while to use new feeders so it is important to persevere.

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