Colorful feathers have long been assumed to be conspicuous to predators, and hence likely to incur costs due to enhanced predation risk. However, many mammals that prey on birds have dichromatic visual systems with only two types of color-sensitive visual receptors, rather than the three and four photoreceptors characteristic of humans and most birds, respectively. Here, we use a combination of multispectral imaging, reflectance spectroscopy, color vision modelling and visual texture analysis to compare the visual signals available to conspecifics and to mammalian predators from multicolored feathers from the Indian peacock (Pavo cristatus), as well as red and yellow parrot feathers. We also model the effects of distance-dependent blurring due to visual acuity. When viewed by birds against green vegetation, most of the feathers studied are estimated to have color and brightness contrasts similar to values previously found for ripe fruit. On the other hand, for dichromat mammalian predators, visual contrasts for these feathers were only weakly detectable and often below detection thresholds for typical viewing distances. We also show that for dichromat mammal vision models, the peacock’s train has below-detection threshold color and brightness contrasts and visual textures that match various foliage backgrounds. These findings are consistent with many feathers of similar hue to those studied here being inconspicuous, and in some cases potentially cryptic, in the eyes of common mammalian predators of adult birds. Given that birds perform many conspicuous motions and behaviors, this study suggests that mammalian predators are more likely to use other sensory modalities (e.g., motion detection, hearing, and olfaction), rather than color vision, to detect avian prey. This suggests new directions for future behavioral studies and emphasizes the importance of understanding the influence of the sensory ecology of predators in the evolution of animal coloration.

Kane, S.A. (Suzanne Amador), Wang, Y. (Yuchao), Fang, R. (Rui), Lu, Y. (Yabin), & Dakin, R. (2019). How conspicuous are peacock eyespots and other colorful feathers in the eyes of mammalian predators?. PLoS ONE, 14(4). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0210924