The role of the pineal gland in the photoperiodic control of bird song frequency and repertoire in the house sparrow, Passer domesticus

Gang Wang, Clifford E. Harpole, Jiffin Paulose, Vincent M. Cassone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Temperate zone birds are highly seasonal in many aspects of their physiology. In mammals, but not in birds, the pineal gland is an important component regulating seasonal patterns of primary gonadal functions. Pineal melatonin in birds instead affects seasonal changes in brain song control structures, suggesting the pineal gland regulates seasonal song behavior. The present study tests the hypothesis that the pineal gland transduces photoperiodic information to the control of seasonal song behavior to synchronize this important behavior to the appropriate phenology. House sparrows, Passer domesticus, expressed a rich array of vocalizations ranging from calls to multisyllabic songs and motifs of songs that varied under a regimen of different photoperiodic conditions that were simulated at different times of year. Control (SHAM) birds exhibited increases in song behavior when they were experimentally transferred from short days, simulating winter, to equinoctial and long days, simulating summer, and decreased vocalization when they were transferred back to short days. When maintained in long days for longer periods, the birds became reproductively photorefractory as measured by the yellowing of the birds' bills; however, song behavior persisted in the SHAM birds, suggesting a dissociation of reproduction from the song functions. Pinealectomized (PINX) birds expressed larger, more rapid increases in daily vocal rate and song repertoire size than did the SHAM birds during the long summer days. These increases gradually declined upon the extension of the long days and did not respond to the transfer to short days as was observed in the SHAM birds, suggesting that the pineal gland conveys photoperiodic information to the vocal control system, which in turn regulates song behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)372-379
Number of pages8
JournalHormones and Behavior
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2014


  • Bird song
  • Circadian
  • House sparrow
  • Passer domesticus
  • Photoperiodic
  • Pineal gland
  • Seasonal

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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