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Proximate neural mechanisms that influence preferences for groups of a given size are almost wholly unknown. In the highly gregarious zebra finch (Estrildidae: Taeniopygia guttata), blockade of nonapeptide receptors by an oxytocin (OT) antagonist significantly reduced time spent with large groups and familiar social partners independent of time spent in social contact. Opposing effects were produced by central infusions of mesotocin (MT, avian homolog of OT). Most drug effects appeared to be female-specific. Across five estrildid finch species, species-typical group size correlates with nonapeptide receptor distributions in the lateral septum, and sociality in female zebra finches was reduced by OT antagonist infusions into the septum but not a control area. We propose that titration of sociality by MT represents a phylogenetically deep framework for the evolution of OT’s female-specific roles in pair bonding and maternal functions.