Seasonal changes in courtship song and the medial preoptic area in male European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris)

Lauren V. Riters, Marcel Eens, Rianne Pinxten, Deborah L. Duffy, Jacques Balthazart, Gregory F. Ball

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

143 Scopus citations


In male starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) courtship song plays a critical role in mate attraction. During the breeding season courtship song occurs prior to copulation and appears to reflect male sexual arousal. Outside the breeding season starlings sing, but song appears unrelated to reproduction. The aromatization of testosterone (T), likely within the medial preoptic nucleus (POM), is critical for the expression of male sexual arousal. The present study was performed to determine whether seasonal changes in the POM might relate to seasonal changes in courtship singing behavior in male starlings. T concentrations, the volume of the POM, and aromatase within the POM were examined both during and outside of the breeding season in male starlings. Song was also recorded at these times both with and without a female present. The POM was largest and contained dense aromatase immunostaining only during the spring breeding season, when T concentrations were highest and males responded to a female with an increase in courtship song. Outside the breeding season the volume of the POM was small, T concentrations were low, and males displayed no changes in song expression in response to female conspecifics. Song bout length was positively related to POM volume, and males sang longer songs in spring. Only males with nestboxes in spring responded to a female, and the POM tended to be larger in these males, suggesting that nestbox possession might influence neuroplasticity within the POM. Overall, the findings suggest that T-dependent plasticity and aromatase activity within the POM might regulate courtship singing in a wild songbird. (C) 2000 Academic Press.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)250-261
Number of pages12
JournalHormones and Behavior
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2000


  • Aromatase
  • Birdsong
  • Neural plasticity
  • Sexual arousal
  • Songbird

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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