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I've recently heard a podcast, in which a professor describes one of the theories as to why we like abstract art. In his talk, he mentions an experiment with seagull chicks, in which the seagull chicks mistake a stick with a red dot for their mother's beak, and in the case of stick with 3 stripes actually preferred it to their mother's beak. When a stick like that is waved around a chick, it starts to peck at it, believing it is mother bird:

chick beak stick seagull

This experiment suggests that birds are imprinted to recognize specific patterns and interpret them as mother.

I'm in trying to create a similar experiment for cats. To do so I'm trying to understand if cats other small predators (ferrets,etc) are imprinted in a similar way - do cats recognize specific features of a bird to identify it as "bird", "prey" or "can hunt and eat"? I'm talking about stuff like - do they recognize eyes, beaks, wings or tail in a special way?

To paraphrase the question: If I'm to create a stick like above, but for cats, what features would be painted on the stick?

I know that butterflies, caterpillars and other insects have evolved to mimick "eyes" on non-vital organs to confuse birds. I'm interested if same stuff exists for small mammal predators. enter image description here

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Heh, what an interesting idea! I suspect you won't succeed (though I hope I'm wrong), I think that cats are more attracted to movement than anything else. They seem to jump at anything that moves. –  terdon Mar 24 at 18:08
insects and birds with tiny brains are easier since they have small brains. larger brained creatures are harder to hack. cats might not be so easy to fool. also depends on where the wiring is. bats use scent primarily, which is hard to hack. –  shigeta Mar 24 at 18:33
@shigeta they do? I would have guessed they use their echolocation. –  terdon Mar 24 at 19:54
to identify their young ones - in some cases - when the ceiling of the cave is crawling with baby bats... sorry i don't have a reference - saw it on a documentary on carlsbad caverns. some bats see just fine - not sure if scent is always important... mice, closely related to bats do as well, so this may be the result of adaptation as well as limitations on brain size etc.. –  shigeta Mar 24 at 22:21
Movement is definitely part of it. I noticed that my cat likes to chase dried cranberry more than a similar sized plastic ball or a rock. The cranberry bounces in a different way, or maybe it's the seeds rattling inside. –  Alex Stone Mar 26 at 14:27
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