• birdsong;
  • neural lateralization;
  • syrinx;
  • vocalization


We studied the mechanism of song production in the outbred common or domestic canary (Serinus canaria). The contribution that each side of the syrinx makes to song was investigated by observing the effect of unilaterally occluding the left or right primary bronchus, followed by section of the ipsilateral branch of the tracheosyringeal nerve. In other birds with a bilaterally intact vocal system we monitored airflow through each side of the syrinx, together with subsyringeal pressure, during spontaneous song. Song production by domestic canaries is not strongly lateralized as it is in the conspecific song-bred waterslager strain. Some syllables are produced entirely on the left or right side of the syrinx, whereas others contain sequential contributions from each side. Low fundamental frequencies are produced with the left syrinx and high frequencies by the right syrinx, increasing the frequency range of domestic canary song compared to that of the waterslager strain. Midrange frequencies can be generated by either side. Syllables at repetition rates below about 25 s−1 were accompanied by minibreaths, which were usually bilateral. Unilateral minibreaths were typically on the left side. At higher syllable repetition rates, minibreaths were replaced by a respiratory pattern of pulsatile expiration. Our data show that strong unilateral dominance in song production, present in the waterslager strain, is not a trait of the species as a whole and that the pattern of song lateralization can be altered by selective breeding for particular song characteristics. © 2004 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Neurobiol 60: 381–393, 2004