Our results show that newborn organisms can develop high-level visual abilities rapidly. For example, newborn chicks can build an abstract (view-invariant and background-invariant) representation of the first object they see in their life, and can recognize objects rapidly—within a fraction of a second. Newborn brains are therefore equipped with powerful visual processing machinery. We have also discovered, however, that these abilities only emerge when newborns receive certain types of experiences. Specifically, newborn chicks need experience with natural visual environments, containing objects moving slowly and smoothly over time across patterned backgrounds. Without natural visual experience, chicks develop abnormal or ‘incorrect’ object concepts. Our working hypothesis is that natural (slow and smooth) visual input optimizes the newborn brain for object perception, allowing for the emergence of abstract mental models of objects. These results illuminate the role of experience in the development of object perception and provide high-precision benchmarks for testing computational models of newborn vision.