A large-capacity memory system that recognizes the calls and songs of individual birds

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1996 Mar 5;93(5):1950-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.93.5.1950.


Auditory responses in the caudomedial neostriatum (NCM) of the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) forebrain habituate to repeated presentations of a novel conspecific song. This habituation is long lasting and specific to individual stimuli. We here test the acoustic and ethological basis of this stimulus-specific habituation by recording extracellular multiunit activity in the NCM of awake male and female zebra finches presented with a variety of conspecific and heterospecific vocalizations, white noise, and tones. Initial responses to conspecific song and calls and to human speech were higher than responses to the other stimuli. Immediate habituation rates were high for all novel stimuli except tones, which habituated at a lower rate. Habituation to conspecific calls and songs outlasted habituation to other stimuli. The extent of immediate habituation induced by a particular novel song was not diminished when other conspecific songs were presented in alternation. In addition, the persistence of habituation was not diminished by exposure to other songs before testing, nor was it influenced by gender or laterality. Our results suggest that the NCM is specialized for remembering the calls and songs of many individual conspecifics.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Auditory Perception / physiology
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality
  • Habituation, Psychophysiologic / physiology*
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Sex Factors
  • Species Specificity
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*