In a recent publication, Wisenden et al. (2020) examined responses of territorial male Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) to models constructed with ultraviolet (UV)-reflective red epaulets for the purpose of determining if the addition of UV reflectance to epaulets (“UV+”) changed the effectiveness of signals to receivers relative to “control” epaulets under field conditions. The authors hypothesized that “UV+ epaulet coloration represents a visual signal with increased efficacy in territorial interactions.” They presented behavioral data but no visual modeling data. Our aims in this commentary are to suggest alternative terms to those used by the authors, to express concern about the use of sunscreen to manipulate the UV condition of surfaces, and to make a plea for additional data collection in future studies of avian visual ecology. The terms UV+ and UV– should be reserved for studies that create environments free from UV radiation for comparison with environments that include UV radiation. We believe that commercial sunscreens are not an appropriate choice for altering the UV conditions of surfaces presented during behavioral trials because they potentially introduce confounding influences from other sensory inputs or irritation of peripheral nerves. Wisenden et al. altered the UV absorbance of their sunscreen-treated models but did not present absorbance spectra and may not have collected those data. We acknowledge that the lack of absorbance spectra is not unusual. We implore any such future studies to collect absorbance spectra of treated and control surfaces so that those data may be used to improve visual models for UV-sensitive animals.

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