Early estrogen treatment alone causes female zebra finches to produce learned, male‐like vocalizations

H. Blair Simpson, David S. Vicario

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

99 Scopus citations


The male zebra finch produces learned song and long calls while the female does not. This difference in behavior is believed to result from the action of sex steroids on brain areas responsible for vocal production and learning. In this study, the female zebra finch was used to explore further the specific role sex steroids play in vocal masculinization. We show that estradiol (E2) treatment at birth was sufficient to masculinize the vocal behavior of female zebra finches. Thirteen of 18 females treated with E2 as nestlings produced song‐like vocalizations. Fifteen of 18 produced long calls with male‐typical features. The degree of masculinization varied between individuals. Of the 15 early E2 females that produced at least one type of male‐like vocalization, 7 showed evidence of vocal learning from their tutors. The ability of E2 to cause masculinization of vocal behavior was age dependent: treatment from birth was most effective, treatment at 20 days of age was partially effective, and treatment in adulthood was ineffective. The effect of subsequent testosterone exposure in adulthood differed depending on the quality of the vocalization produced after E2 treatment alone. These results suggest that E2 may play a more important role than previously thought in the development of sex differences in vocal behavior. Further‐more, this study demonstrates that exogenous E2 treatment alone can induce vocal learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)755-776
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Neurobiology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 1991
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Neuroscience(all)


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