Mammalian neocortex is characterized by a layered architecture and a common or “canonical” microcircuit governing information flow among layers. This microcircuit is thought to underlie the computations required for complex behavior. Despite the absence of a six-layered cortex, birds are capable of complex cognition and behavior. In addition, the avian auditory pallium is composed of adjacent information-processing regions with genetically identified neuron types and projections among regions comparable with those found in the neocortex. Here, we show that the avian auditory pallium exhibits the same information-processing principles that define the canonical cortical microcircuit, long thought to have evolved only in mammals. These results suggest that the canonical cortical microcircuit evolved in a common ancestor of mammals and birds and provide a physiological explanation for the evolution of neural processes that give rise to complex behavior in the absence of cortical lamination.