Measurement of Brain Responses in Birds During Naturalistic Courtship Behaviour

The ring dove (Streptopelia risoria) was an important model species in behavioural endocrinology and neuroendocrinology in the 1960s to 1990s, and the hormonal and environmental influences on courtship behaviour have been investigated in great detail. The birds have a relatively simple courtship display, including a repeated bow-coo, during which the male bows in the direction of a female while making a characteristic coo call. We know that there is variation between males in the timing and coordination of the bow-coo, but we do not know whether or how this variation influences female evaluation of the male as a potential mating partner. Research on the neural mechanisms underlying female evaluation of an ongoing courtship display is also lacking.

Research questions

Our overall goal is to find a neural signature of mate evaluation in female doves while they are observing courting males. To this end, we are recording brain signals (electroencephalogram, EEG). We are also interested in how auditory and visual signals are integrated, which has not yet been studied in many bird species. Finally, we plan to use the EEG to explore the effect of steroid hormones on sensory processing and multisensory integration.

Recording system

We use small, light-weight loggers to record EEG from freely moving ring doves. The birds undergo a single surgery under anesthesia and analgesia in order to fix the electrodes and a connector to the skull. Previous work with pigeons and smaller birds has shown that this small implant does not negatively impact the behaviour or well-being of the birds. Whenever we want to record data, we attach the recording device to the connector. The data is recorded ‘on board’, so there are no cables involved and the birds can move freely without loss of signal quality.

A sketch showing the implant that holds electrodes and connector in place on the bird’s skull. 4 recording electrodes are used, and the wires and connector are embedded in a small mound of dental cement.

Experimental set-up

We record from birds during courtship interaction with a con-specific, or while the bird views and hears visual and auditory stimuli presented using a monitor and speakers.


Supported by start-up funds of the University of Vienna and the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna. The EEG system was implemented with financial support from the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna (Bright Spark grant to Cliodhna Quigley).


Cliodhna Quigley, Leonida Fusani


Niels Rattenborg, MPI Ornithology, Seewiesen

Lisa Trost, MPI Ornithology, Seewiesen

Alexei Vyssotski,