Pecking at small targets requires accurate spatial coordination of the head. Planning of the peck has been proposed to occur in two distinct stop phases, but although this idea has now been around for a long time, the specific functional roles of these stop phases remain unsolved. Here, we investigated the characteristics of the two stop phases using high-speed motion capture and examined their functions with two experiments. In experiment 1, we tested the hypothesis that the second stop phase is used to pre-program the final approach to a target and analyzed head movements while pigeons (Columba livia) pecked at targets of different size. Our results show that the duration of both stop phases significantly increased as stimulus size decreased. We also found significant positive correlations between stimulus size and the distances of the beaks to the stimulus during both stop phases. In experiment 2, we used a two-alternative forced choice task with different levels of difficulty to test the hypothesis that the first stop phase is used to decide between targets. The results indicate that the characteristics of the stop phases do not change with an increasing difficulty between the two choices. Therefore, we conclude that the first stop phase is not exclusively used to decide upon a target to peck at, but also contributes to the function of the second stop phase, which is improving pecking accuracy and planning the final approach to the target.
The authors declare no competing or financial interests.
This work was funded by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Discovery Grant to N.F.T.
L.M.T. designed experiments, supervised experimenters, analyzed data, interpreted the findings and wrote the manuscript. T.R. carried out experiment 1, analyzed data and wrote the manuscript. N.F.T. designed experiments, supervised T.R. and L.M.T., interpreted findings and edited the manuscript.
Supplementary information available online at http://jeb.biologists.org/lookup/doi/10.1242/jeb.147850.supplemental
- Received August 5, 2016.
- Accepted November 14, 2016.
- © 2017. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd