The bird hippocampus (Hp), although lacking the cellular lamination of the mammalian Hp, possesses comparable roles in spatial orientation and is implicated in passive avoidance learning. As in rodents it can be divided into dorsal and ventral regions based on immunocytochemical, tracing and electrophysiological studies. To study the effects of passive avoidance learning on synapse morphometry in the Hp, spine and shaft synapse densities of 1-day-old domestic chicks were determined in dorsal and ventral Hp of each hemisphere by electron microscopy, 6 and 24 h following training to avoid pecking at a bead coated with a bitter-tasting substance, methyl anthranilate (MeA). The density of asymmetric spine and shaft synapses in MeA-trained birds at 6 h post-training was significantly lower in the dorsal and ventral Hp of the right hemisphere relative to control (untrained) chicks, but by 24 h this difference was absent. A hemispheric asymmetry was apparent in the ventral Hp where the water-trained group showed enhanced shaft and spine synapse density in the left hemisphere, whilst in the MeA-trained group only asymmetric shaft synapses follow the same pattern in relation to the right hemisphere. There were no differences in asymmetric shaft synapses in the dorsal Hp at 6 h post-training, but at 24 h post-training there was a reduction in the density of shaft synapses in the right hemisphere in MeA compared with control birds. These data are discussed in relation to the pruning effects of stress and learning on synapse density in chick Hp.