The development of stimulus-specific auditory responses requires song exposure in male but not female zebra finches
Juvenile male zebra finches develop their song by imitation. Females do not sing but are attracted to males' songs. With functional magnetic resonance imaging and event-related potentials we tested how early auditory experience shapes responses in the auditory forebrain of the adult bird. Adult male birds kept in isolation over the sensitive period for song learning showed no consistency in auditory responses to conspecific songs, calls, and syllables. Thirty seconds of song playback each day over development, which is sufficient to induce song imitation, was also sufficient to shape stimulus-specific responses. Strikingly, adult females kept in isolation over development showed responses similar to those of males that were exposed to songs. We suggest that early auditory experience with songs may be required to tune perception toward conspecific songs in males, whereas in females song selectivity develops even without prior exposure to song.