Insights from Comparative Hearing Research

Volume 49 of the series Springer Handbook of Auditory Research pp 347-388


Advances in Understanding the Auditory Brain of Songbirds

  • Janie M. OndracekAffiliated withInstitute of Neuroinformatics, University of Zurich and ETH Zurich
  • , Richard H. R. HahnloserAffiliated withInstitute of Neuroinformatics, University of Zurich and ETH Zurich Email author 

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Songbirds, like humans, have the ability to memorize and learn auditory input in order to shape their own vocalization. Such abilities imply that the songbird brain, not unlike the human brain, is built to process and discriminate complex sounds.

In this chapter, the strategy that songbirds use to learn their songs is reviewed, highlighting its dependence on auditory feedback for successful song learning. The elements of birdsong are explained, followed by a short description of analytical tools commonly used by songbird neurophysiologists to analyze auditory-driven neural spiking responses. These tools are used to discuss the patterns of auditory processing that occur in the songbird’s brain, beginning with the auditory midbrain and thalamic structures that are common to all birds and moving up to the primary and secondary auditory areas in the songbird cerebrum involved in the discrimination of behaviorally relevant complex sounds in birdsong.


Auditory cortex Auditory feedback Auditory processing Caudal mesopallium Dorsal lateral nucleus of the mesencephalon Field L Neurophysiology Nidopallium caudal medial Ovoidalis Perturbation Song learning Songbird Spectrotemporal receptive fields Template theory Zebra finch