Investigating the Cockatoo With 14 Dance Moves

Snowball the cockatoo

A new study reveals that the internet-famous cockatoo named Snowball can do more than just bust moves - whether headbanging, wildly tapping its foot or gyrating its mohawked head - in sync with the beat of the music. It's a finding that supports the idea that "dancing is not just purely a product of human cultural invention, it's a response to music that arises when certain cognitive and neural capacities come together in an animal brain", says Patel.

Snowball the head-banging cockatoo has baffled scientists by his remarkable ability to dance.

To take a scientific look at Snowball's movements, the team filmed him dancing to Another One Bites the Dust by Queen and Cyndi Lauper's Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.

Some moves are more complicated, like "headbang with lifted foot". Instead, Snowball seemed to be dancing simply to interact with his human caregiver, which he likely sees as his surrogate flock. Now it seems their talents include dancing as well.

The authors of the study, published in Current Biology, questioned how he acquired his dance skills, as the motions didn't appear to be mimicked. As the bird was introduced to more and more music, his owner Irena Schultz noticed that her pet was in a period of "movement exploration". Each time he heard a particular tune he danced a little differently, a sign of flexibility and perhaps even creativity.

Back then, the sulphur-crested cockatoo's signature moves included bobbing his head, stamping his feet and kicking his leg in the air to the beat.

Researchers aren't sure just how Snowball learned to master a breadth of movements, but they suggest birds in the avian order shares five traits with humans that facilitate their tendency to dance, including the ability to imitate movement and a tendency to form long-term social bonds.

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"We think some of his move are likely to be his own creation, because his owner doesn't make these moves when she dances with him".

He had already been studying people's inherent ability and desire to move to a beat, when he came across the grainy YouTube footage of a white parrot bobbing, kicking and squeaking along to Everybody (Backstreet's Back) by the Backstreet Boys.

"He seemed to be experimenting with new moves, and so we chose to try and study that properly because that was the second interesting parallel to humans".

"There's complex vocal learning".

"Here, we're looking at highly complex movements, many of which are not part of natural parrot behaviour", Patel told AFP, adding that this suggests cognitive planning of actions and the willingness to choose between alternatives to respond to a stimulus. At the time, Snowball had only previously danced to the songs with his owner.

"It's striking that in our modern world people often listen to music on their own, for example on their phones, but still seek out other people when they want to dance", Professor Patel said.

Snowball, like most dancers, only got better with time. "We'll see if Snowball is the same". It's a dancing cockatoo! "It's either imitation, which is sophisticated enough or it's actual creativity, which is incredibly interesting".

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