Mechanisms underlying the learned vocal behavior of songbirds were studied by examining expression of the protein product of the immediate early gene c-fos (Fos) in zebra finches. Auditory stimuli including the bird's own song did not induce Fos in the song system. In contrast, the motor act of singing induced Fos in two song sensorimotor nuclei, HVc and RA. This induction was independent of auditory feedback, since it occurred in deafened birds that sang. Double-labeling studies demonstrated that only one of the two sets of projection neurons in HVc expressed singing-related Fos. The motor-driven induction of Fos identifies functionally distinct cell populations in a network for singing and may point to sites of cellular plasticity necessary for song maintenance.