Testosterone induction of song in photosensitive and photorefractory male sparrows

Stephen Nowicki, Gregory F. Ball

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Song in male songbirds is activated by the sex steroid testosterone (T). Using male song sparrows (Melospiza melodia), we compared effects of T in the normal spring state of photosensitivity (i.e., when the pituitary-gonadal axis is sensitive to stimulation by increasing daylength) and in the late summer-early fall state of photorefractoriness (i.e., when they are insensitive to increasing daylength). Photosensitive males experienced short days for 8 weeks and then long days for another 22 weeks to induce photorefractoriness. T implants were given to the birds twice, first when on short days and photosensitive, and second when on long days and photorefractory. Song rates were compared among 5 conditions: (1) photosensitive, short days, low T titers; (2) photosensitive, short days, high T titers; (3) photosensitive, long days, high T titers; (4) photorefractory, long days, low T titers; and (5) photorefractory, long days, high T titers. Plasma levels of T were monitored throughout the experiment by radioimmunoassay. T was equally effective in inducing song in both the photosensitive and photorefractory conditions. Thus, no seasonal change was found in the sensitivity to hormone action of the neural target sites mediating this behavior in song sparrows. Photosensitive birds sang at a higher rate when on long days than when on short days, however, even though there was no concomitant increase in plasma levels of T. This finding suggests that environmental factors can alter the expression of song activated by similar levels of T.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)514-525
Number of pages12
JournalHormones and Behavior
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1989

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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