Seasonal and sex-related variation in song control nuclei in a species with near-monomorphic song, the northern cardinal

Neurosci Lett. 2008 Oct 10;443(3):169-73. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2008.07.085. Epub 2008 Aug 3.


Studies concerning the song control system (SCS) in songbirds generally focus on males due to their prodigious song production. Both seasonal and age related differences have been found in the size of male SCS regions. Among those studies that have addressed females some level of sexual size dimorphism has been found, with females generally having smaller SCS area than males. Among those species where female song has been studied, typically females either sing much less than males, or they duet with their mates, but in general do not produce independent song. Here we present information on seasonal and sex differences in SCS in the northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) a species where both sexes sing, females sing independent of their mates, and song is produced by males over a prolonged period of time (7-8 months). We collected brains from free-living adult cardinals, both in the late non-breeding season and during the early breeding season, and measured three song control nuclei; HVC, Area X and RA. There were sex differences in all three areas assessed at the two time points considered. Additionally, there was a seasonal difference in both sexes for all areas assessed. In both time points male SCS nuclei were 1.5-2.0 times larger than female SCS nuclei. These data show that even in those species with independent female song there may still exist sex differences in the SCS nuclei. Similarity in song between the sexes could be related to differences in hormone receptors or hormone levels in the brain, while the small-observed changes in SCS area in males may allow for early breeding season song production and song production outside of the breeding season.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Brain / cytology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Seasons*
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Songbirds / anatomy & histology
  • Songbirds / physiology*
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*