Sensory substitution is a promising therapeutic approach for replacing a missing or diseased sensory organ by translating inaccessible information into another sensory modality. However, many substitution systems are not well accepted by subjects. To explore the effect of sensory substitution on voluntary action repertoires and their associated affective valence, we study deaf songbirds to which we provide visual feedback as a substitute of auditory feedback. Surprisingly, deaf birds respond appetitively to song-contingent binary visual stimuli. They skillfully adapt their songs to increase the rate of visual stimuli, showing that auditory feedback is not required for making targeted changes to vocal repertoires. We find that visually instructed song learning is basal-ganglia dependent. Because hearing birds respond aversively to the same visual stimuli, sensory substitution reveals a preference for actions that elicit sensory feedback over actions that do not, suggesting that substitution systems should be designed to exploit the drive to manipulate.