A night vision brain area in migratory songbirds

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


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.


  • H. Mouritsen
  • G. Feenders
  • Miriam Liedvogel
  • K. Wada
  • E.D. Jarvis
External organisations
  • External Organization - Unknown
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Biological Sciences


  • behavioral molecular mapping, bird orientation, cognition, magnetic sense, ZENK (zif268, Egr-1, NGF-1A, and Krox-24)
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8339-8344
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - 2005
Publication categoryResearch
Externally publishedYes