The effect of auditory distractors on song discrimination in male canaries (Serinus canaria)

Didier Appeltants, Timothy Q. Gentner, Stewart H. Hulse, Jacques Balthazart, Gregory F. Ball

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Male songbirds such as canaries produce complex learned vocalizations that are used in the context of mate attraction and territory defense. Successful mate attraction or territorial defense requires that a bird be able to recognize individuals based on their vocal performance and identify these songs in a noisy background. In order to learn more about how birds are able to solve this problem, we investigated, with a two-alternative choice procedure, the ability of adult male canaries to discriminate between conspecific song segments from two different birds and to maintain this discrimination when conspecific songs are superimposed with a variety of distractors. The results indicate that male canaries have the ability to discriminate, with a high level of accuracy song segments produced by two different conspecific birds. Song discrimination was partially maintained when the stimuli were masked by auditory distractors, but the accuracy of the discrimination progressively declined as a function of the number of masking distractors. The type of distractor used in the experiments (other conspecific songs or different types of artificial white noise) did not markedly affect the rate of deterioration of the song discrimination. These data indicate that adult male canaries have the perceptual abilities to discriminate and selectively attend to one ongoing sound that occurs simultaneously with one or more other sounds. The administration of a noradrenergic neurotoxin did not impair markedly the discrimination learning abilities although the number of subjects tested was too small to allow any firm conclusion. In these conditions, however, the noradrenergic lesion significantly increased the number failures to respond in the discrimination learning task suggesting a role, in canaries, of the noradrenergic system in some attentional processes underlying song learning and processing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)331-341
Number of pages11
JournalBehavioural Processes
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 30 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Auditory scene analysis
  • Canary
  • Noradrenergic system
  • Song discrimination
  • Songbirds

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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