Behavioral discrimination of sexually dimorphic calls by male zebra finches requires an intact vocal motor pathway

J Neurobiol. 2001 May;47(2):109-20. doi: 10.1002/neu.1020.


Vocal communication between zebra finches includes the exchange of long calls (LCs) as well as song. By using this natural call behavior and quantifying the LCs emitted in response to playbacks of LCs of other birds, we have previously shown that adult male zebra finches have a categorical preference for the LCs of females over those of males. Female LCs are acoustically simpler than male LCs, which include complex acoustic features that are learned during development. Production of these male-typical features requires an intact nucleus RA, the sexually dimorphic source of the main telencephalic projection to brainstem vocal effectors. We have now made bilateral lesions of RA in 17 adult males and tested their discrimination behavior in the call response situation. Lesioned birds continue to call, but lose the male-typical preference for female LCs. The degree of loss is correlated with the extent of RA damage. Further, the simplified LCs of males with RA lesions have a variable duration that is correlated with stimulus features. In effect, the call response behavior of lesioned males becomes like that of females. Apparently, in the absence of RA, the remaining intact structures receive different call information than RA normally does, and/or process it differently. This suggests that the vocal motor nucleus RA could play a role in the transformation of a signal encoding the salience of stimulus parameters into a control signal that modulates the probability and strength of responding.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Auditory Pathways / cytology*
  • Auditory Pathways / physiology
  • Auditory Perception / physiology
  • Denervation
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology
  • Female
  • Male
  • Motor Neurons / cytology*
  • Motor Neurons / physiology
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Songbirds / physiology*
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*