Visual scenes can be readily decomposed into a variety of oriented components, the processing of which is vital for object segregation and recognition. In primate V1 and V2, most neurons have small spatio-temporal receptive fields responding selectively to oriented luminance contours (first order), while only a subgroup of neurons signal non-luminance defined contours (second order). So how is the orientation of second-order contours represented at the population level in macaque V1 and V2? Here we compared the population responses in macaque V1 and V2 to two types of second-order contour stimuli generated either by modulation of contrast or phase reversal with those to first-order contour stimuli. Using intrinsic signal optical imaging, we found that the orientation of second-order contour stimuli was represented invariantly in the orientation columns of both macaque V1 and V2. A physiologically constrained spatio-temporal energy model of V1 and V2 neuronal populations could reproduce all the recorded population responses. These findings suggest that, at the population level, the primate early visual system processes the orientation of second-order contours initially through a linear spatio-temporal filter mechanism. Our results of population responses to different second-order contour stimuli support the idea that the orientation maps in primate V1 and V2 can be described as a spatial-temporal energy map.