The stimulus-response function of many visual and auditory neurons has been described by a spatial-temporal receptive field (STRF), a linear model that for mathematical reasons has until recently been estimated with the reverse correlation method, using simple stimulus ensembles such as white noise. Such stimuli, however, often do not effectively activate high-level sensory neurons, which may be optimized to analyze natural sounds and images. We show that it is possible to overcome the simple-stimulus limitation and then use this approach to calculate the STRFs of avian auditory forebrain neurons from an ensemble of birdsongs. We find that in many cases the STRFs derived using natural sounds are strikingly different from the STRFs that we obtained using an ensemble of random tone pips. When we compare these two models by assessing their predictions of neural response to the actual data, we find that the STRFs obtained from natural sounds are superior. Our results show that the STRF model is an incomplete description of response properties of nonlinear auditory neurons, but that linear receptive fields are still useful models for understanding higher level sensory processing, as long as the STRFs are estimated from the responses to relevant complex stimuli.