Head-bobbing behavior in foraging Whooping Cranes

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Many species of cursorial birds 'head-bob', that is, they alternately thrust the head forward, then hold it stiII as they walk. Such a motion stabilizes visual fields intermittently and could be critical for visual search; yet the time available for stabilization vs. forward thrust varies with walking speed. Whooping Cranes (Grus americana) are extremely tall birds that visually search the ground for seeds, berries, and small prey. We examined head movements in unrestrained Whooping Cranes using digital video subsequently analyzed with a computer graphical overlay. When foraging, the cranes walk at speeds that allow the head to be held still for at least 50% of the time. This behavior is thought to balance the two needs for covering as much ground as possible and for maximizing the time for visual fixation of the ground in the search for prey. Our results strongly suggest that in cranes, and probably many other bird species, visual fixation of the ground is required for object detection and identification. The thrust phase of the head-bobbing cycle is probably also important for vision. As the head moves forward, the movement generates visual flow and motion parallax, providing visual cues for distances and the relative locations of objects. The eyes commonly change their point of fixation when the head is moving too, suggesting that they remain visually competent throughout the entire cycle of thrust and stabilization.

Additional publication details

Publication type Book chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Title Head-bobbing behavior in foraging Whooping Cranes
Year Published 2006
Language English
Contributing office(s) Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
Description 297
Larger Work Type Book
Larger Work Subtype Other Government Series
Larger Work Title Abstracts to XXIV International Ornithological Congress, Hamburg, 2006
First page 59 (abs)