A night vision brain area in migratory songbirds

H. Mouritsen, G. Feenders, Miriam Liedvogel, K. Wada, E.D. Jarvis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Twice each year, millions of night-migratory songbirds migrate thousands of kilometers. To find their way, they must process and integrate spatiotemporal information from a variety of cues including the Earth's magnetic field and the night-time starry sky. By using sensory-driven gene expression, we discovered that night-migratory songbirds possess a tight cluster of brain regions highly active only during night vision. This cluster, here named “cluster N,” is located at the dorsal surface of the brain and is adjacent to a known visual pathway. In contrast, neuronal activation of cluster N was not increased in nonmigratory birds during the night, and it disappeared in migrants when both eyes were covered. We suggest that in night-migratory songbirds cluster N is involved in enhanced night vision, and that it could be integrating vision-mediated magnetic and/or star compass information for night-time navigation. Our findings thus represent an anatomical and functional demonstration of a specific night-vision brain area.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8339-8344
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - 2005
Externally publishedYes

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Biological Sciences

Free keywords

  • behavioral molecular mapping
  • bird orientation
  • cognition
  • magnetic sense
  • ZENK (zif268
  • Egr-1
  • NGF-1A
  • and Krox-24)


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