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

Sek Jin Chew, David S. Vicario, Fernando Nottebohm

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

185 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1950-1955
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 5 1996

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • amnesia
  • cognition
  • electrophysiology
  • long-term memory
  • species recognition

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