We have traced central nervous pathways controlling bird son in the canary using a combination of behavioral and anatomical techniques. Unilateral electrolytic brain lesions were made in adult male canaries whose son had been previously recorded and analysed on a sound spectrograph. After severral days of postoperative recording, the birds were sacrificed and their brains processed histologically for degeneration staining with the Fink-Heimer technique. Although large lesions in the neostriatum and rostral hyperstriatum had no effect on song, severe song deficits followed damage to a discrete large-celled area in the caudal hyperstriatum ventrale (HVc). Degenerating fibers were traced from this region to two other discrete nuclei in the forebrain: one in the parolfactory lobe (area X, a teardrop-shaped small-celled nucleus) and a round large-celled nucleus in the archistriatum (RA). Unilateral lesions of X had no effect on song; lesions of RA, however, caused severe song deficits. Degenerating fibers from RA joined the occipitomesencephalic tract and had widespread ipsilateral projections to the thalamus, nucleus intercollicularis of the midbrain, reticular formation, and medulla. It is of particular interest that direct connections were found onto the cells of the motor nucleus innervating the syrinx, the organ of song production. Unilateral lesions of n. intercollicularis (previously implicated in the control of vocal behavior) had little effect on song.
One bilateral lesion of HVc resulted in permanent (9 months) and complete elimination of the audible components of song, although the bird assumed the posture and movements typical of song. Preliminary data suggest that lesions of the left hemisphere result in greater deficits than lesions of the right one. This finding is consistent with earlier reports that the left syrinx controls the majority of song components. Results reported here suggest a localization of vocal control in the canary brain with an overlying left hemispheric dominance.