We still have limited knowledge about the underlying genetic mechanisms that enable migrating species of birds to navigate the globe. Here we make an attempt to get insight into the genetic architecture controlling this complex innate behaviour. We contrast the gene expression profiles of two closely related songbird subspecies with divergent migratory phenotypes. In addition to comparing differences in migratory strategy we include a temporal component and contrast patterns between breeding adults and autumn migrating juvenile birds of both subspecies. The two willow warbler subspecies, Phylloscopus trochilus trochilus and P. t. acredula, are remarkably similar both in phenotype and genotype and have a narrow contact zone in central Scandinavia. Here we used a microarray gene chip representing 23,136 expressed sequence tags (ESTs) from the zebra finch Taeniopygia guttata to identify mRNA level differences in willow warbler brain tissue in relation to subspecies and season.