Biology at Williams

Faculty and Staff

Heather Williams
Heather Williams
Professor of Biology at Williams since 1988

Office: 020 TBL
Phone: (413) 597-3315
Area of Interest: Animal Behavior and Neuroscience


Courses Offered

Honors Students

Research Interests

First, here is an introduction to zebra finches and some information on their songs, courtship display, and brain circuitry.

If you'd like to look at / listen to a lot of zebra finch songs, here's a Zebra Finch Song Archive.

These are some of the major strands in the lab's thinking about bird songs and the brains that produce them:

Song organization

Male zebra finches learn their songs in chunks, segments of approximately 3 syllables extracted from one or more adults' songs and rearranged to form a new song. Such chunks have both sensory (during acquisition of a model) and motor (as sung during production) aspects. Can we find brain representations of chunks? Of their ordering?

Reversibility of song crystallization

Zebra finches are "closed-ended" learners, completing song learning at sexual maturity, which occurs 90 days after hatching. By interfering with the mechanics of song production, we can induce adult males to alter their songs in a way that is similar song development learning process. What conditions and what neural circuits are necessary for rejuvenating the brain?


Song, like speech, is lateralized, but in birds the non-dominant side contributes to the production of portions of the song. Birds do not have a corpus callosum to help coordinate activity in the two sides. How are interactions between the two hemispheres coordinated?

Sexual dimorphism in song perception.

Female zebra finches do not sing, and lack components of the males' brain circuits for song. Is this dimorphism reflected in the way that males and females process and perceive the songs they hear?

Cultural transmission of song

House finches have recently colonized much of the Eastern U.S. Within a few years after they take up residence, populations appear to form locally stable song dialects, despite yearly incursions of males from other areas. How do song dialects change over time?


Other Activities


Selected Publications

*Williams College student or former student