A Field Study of Seasonal Neuronal Incorporation Into the Song Control System of a Songbird That Lacks Adult Song Learning

J Neurobiol. 1999 Sep 5;40(3):316-26. doi: 10.1002/(sici)1097-4695(19990905)40:3<316::aid-neu4>3.0.co;2-s.


Adult songbirds can incorporate new neurons into HVc, a telencephalic song control nucleus. Neuronal incorporation into HVc is greater in the fall than in the spring in adult canaries (open-ended song learners) and is temporally related to seasonal song modification. We used the western song sparrow, a species that does not modify its adult song, to test the hypothesis that neuronal incorporation into adult HVc is not seasonally variable in age-limited song learners. Wild song sparrows were captured during the fall and the spring, implanted with osmotic pumps containing [3H]thymidine, released onto their territories, and recaptured after 30 days. The density, proportion, and number of new HVc neurons were all significantly greater in the fall than in the spring. There was also a seasonal change in the incorporation of new neurons into the adjacent neostriatum that was less pronounced than the change in HVc. This is the first study of neuronal recruitment into the song control system of freely ranging wild songbirds. These results indicate that seasonal changes in HVc neuronal incorporation are not restricted to open-ended song learners. The functional significance of neuronal recruitment into HVc therefore remains elusive.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Cell Count
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Neostriatum / metabolism
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Research Design
  • Seasons*
  • Songbirds / physiology*
  • Telencephalon / growth & development*
  • Telencephalon / physiology*
  • Testosterone / blood
  • Thymidine / pharmacokinetics
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*


  • Testosterone
  • Thymidine