Neurobiology of Courtship Behavior in Songbirds



Professor of Biology & Co-Director, Biological Basis of Behavior Program

Project Summary

This summer through PURM, I had the opportunity to work in Dr. Marc F. Schmidt’s lab. My project was to study the neurobiology of courtship behavior in songbirds. More specifically, I studied a neural circuit in the songbird brain known as the “song-system” and its role in the courtship behavior of female brown-headed cowbirds. This lab exposed me to neuroscience, a field that was relatively unknown to me. I have come to learn that there are numerous methodologies when studying avian neuroscience and there is ample opportunity to collaborate. In my project there is integration with electrophysiology, tracer injections and histology. My main role has been learning the process of histology from our lab technician Jessica Burke. I assisted in surgeries in which we injected tracers into certain areas in the brain and I also learned how to process the bird’s brain once it was perfused. I have learned a variety of techniques including blocking brains, cutting brains on a freezing microtome, mounting brain sections onto slides, staining protocols for slides, microscopy and imaging. This project has opened my eyes to the field of neuroscience, and I am inclined to explore the subject. My experience in the lab has taught me about the intricacies of research and has cemented certain things for me. I have consistently entertained the idea of pursuing research as a career, but I knew that I wanted to work with animals in some kind of facet. After having worked in this lab, I can see that my interest of working with animals is feasible and that research is the path I want to take.