• Fernando Nottebohm
Part of the Readings from the Encyclopedia of Neuroscience book series (REN)


Birds start to claim territorial ownership late in the winter, and it is their song that announces the arrival of spring. Song is an effective way of broadcasting ownership. An array of speakers placed in lieu of a territorial owner will keep other males away. But birdsong is not just a threat flung at potential trespassers; it is also used to woo and seduce females. A number of authors have shown that the song of male birds—the warbling of budgerigars, the cooing of doves and the song of canaries—induces ovulation in females. In these cases it plays an important role in regulating the female hormonal condition. Male song can also trigger more immediate changes. For example, the song of a male cowbird or swamp sparrow induces the female to adopt the soliciting posture necessary for copulation. Thus, whereas birdsong for humans may sound cheerful, to female songbirds it has sex appeal. Despite these comments, birdsong is not always restricted to males. Female European robins sing in winter, when they defend a feeding territory. Male and female Amazona parrots sing antiphonally, each member of the pair contributing specific components of the shared pattern. This phenomenon, called duetting, is also common among some tropical songbirds.


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Further reading

  1. Bottjer SW, Miesner EA, Arnold AP (1984): Forebrain lesions disrupt development but not maintenance of song in passerine birds. Science 224:901–903.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Konishi M (1985): Birdsong: From behavior to neuron. Annu Rev Neurosci 8:125–170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Kroodsma DE, Miller EH, eds (1982): Acoustic Communication in Birds. New York: Academic PressGoogle Scholar
  4. Marier P, Pickert R (1984): Species-universal microstructure in the learned song of the swamp sparrow (Melospiza georgiana). Anim Behav 32:673–689.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Nottebohm F (1984): Birdsong as a model in which to study brain processes related to learning. Condor 86:227–236.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Nottebohm F (1984): Learning, forgetting and brain repair. In: Cerebral Dominance: The Biological Foundations, Geschwind N, Galaburda AM, eds. Cambridge: Harvard University PressGoogle Scholar
  7. Nottebohm F (1985): Neuronal replacement in adulthood. In: Hope for a New Neurology, Nottebohm F, ed. New York: Academy of SciencesGoogle Scholar
  8. Williams H, Nottebohm F (1985): Auditory responses in avian vocal motor neurons: A motor theory of song perception in birds. Science 229:279–282.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1989

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  • Fernando Nottebohm

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