Motor dynamics of song production by mimic thrushes

J Neurobiol. 1994 Aug;25(8):917-36. doi: 10.1002/neu.480250803.


In brown thrashers (Toxostoma rufum) and grey catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis) neither side of the syrinx has a consistently dominant role in song production. During song, the two sides operate independently, but in close cooperation with each other and with the respiratory muscles which are capable of adjusting expiratory effort to maintain a constant rate of syringeal airflow despite sudden changes in syringeal resistance. Phonation is frequently switched from one side of the syrinx to the other, both between syllables and within a syllable. When both sides of the syrinx produce sound simultaneously, their respective contributions are seldom harmonically related. The resulting "two-voice" syllables sometimes contain difference tones with prominent sinusoidal amplitude modulation (AM). Rarely, both sides simultaneously produce the same sound. In general, however, the frequency range of sound contributed by the right syrinx is higher than that of the left syrinx. The right syrinx is also primarily responsible for producing a rapid cyclical amplitude modulation which is a characteristic feature of some syllables. This kind of AM is generated by either repetitive brief bursts of sound from the right side that modulate the amplitude of a continuous sound arising on the left side or cyclically opening the right syrinx, allowing unmodulated expiratory air to bypass the phonating left side.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Air Pressure
  • Animals
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Bronchi / physiology
  • Laryngeal Muscles / physiology
  • Male
  • Muscles / physiology
  • Respiratory Mechanics / physiology
  • Species Specificity
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*