New research has shown that in almost any lighting conditions, colour vision is crucial for chickens in order to find food that is ripe to eat and identify high quality partners to mate with.

The researchers, from Lund University and Bristol University, have established that chickens, just like people, have colour constancy which means that in different environments and under different lighting conditions they recognize the colour of, for example, berries and can thereby distinguish those that are ripe from those that are not. Their findings were published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Without colour constancy they would not be able to rely on their colour vision and would simply see the berries in different colours as the light changed. Additionally, they would certainly not be able to recognize their own kind of species.

The findings were achieved by the researchers training chickens and initially keeping them in an environment with white light with access to containers marked in three different colours; red, yellow and orange. Only by selecting the orange container would the birds receive food.

The researchers then studied which container the chickens selected when the light in the room was switched to different shades of red. The results showed that the chickens continued to select the orange container.

"We studied many different lighting conditions to find out how big the changes in light could be without the chickens losing their colour constancy. This type of study has never been done before," says Peter Olsson, a PHD student and biologist at the world-leading Lund Vision Group at the Faculty of Science at Lund University who worked on the study.

By using a mathematical model, the team calculated how big the changes in light are inside the chickens’ eyes. The same model can be used on other animals and thereby allows scientists for the first time to compare colour constancy ability in other animals.

"We can also compare the chickens' colour constancy ability in the laboratory to the light changes they and other birds experience in nature, such as how the lighting conditions differ in the woods from in an open field. Our results show that they are able to maintain their colour constancy under greater changes in light in the laboratory than when experiencing those that occur in nature," explained Mr Olsson.

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