How do birds tell the colours of their own and foreign eggs apart? We demonstrate that perceptual modelling of avian visual discrimination can predict behavioural rejection responses to foreign eggs in the nest of wild birds. We use a photoreceptor noise-limited colour opponent model of visual perception to evaluate its accuracy as a predictor of behavioural rates of experimental egg discrimination in the song thrush Turdus philomelos. The visual modelling of experimental and natural eggshell colours suggests that photon capture from the ultraviolet and short wavelength-sensitive cones elicits egg rejection decisions in song thrushes, while inter-clutch variation of egg coloration provides sufficient contrasts for detecting conspecific parasitism in this species. Biologically realistic sensory models provide an important tool for relating variability of behavioural responses to perceived phenotypic variation.
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