Meet Snowball, a cockatoo that dances with new, non-repetitive dance moves with the beat of the music. This is something science has never seen in a species other than humans. Interested in whether modern birds are dinosaurs? Check out this article to find out.
This article first appeared in Live Science.
About a decade ago, a cockatoo owner uploaded a video of her pet sulphur-crested cockatoo, Snowball, dancing to the Backstreet Boys on Youtube. Snowball bopped and headbanged in time with the music, and the video went viral. Since then, researchers have been fascinated by the dancing cockatoo, which was the first recorded animal to dance to music for the sake of enjoyment.
Researchers who were intrigued by Snowball's video decided to study the animal and how it reacts to music. The study wad published in Current Biology and it surprised the researchers, as it showed that Snowball "spontaneously synchronized his movements to the beat of music, something seen in every human culture but which had never been observed in a nonhuman animal."
The implications of this incredible finding could alter our understanding of animal intelligence. In a nutshell, Snowball may have proven to us that spontaneous, inventive dancing isn't just a human activity. Parrots are the closest animal to humans in terms of their musical abilities, and dancing to music may happen when neural and cognitive capacities align in animal brains.
The researchers developed five traits that allow humans and parrots to dance:
- The ability for vocal learning, which makes the brain link hearing music and movement together
- The ability to imitate nonverbal movement
- The capacity to form long-term social bonds (scientifically, dancing is done for social reasons)
- The ability to memorize a complex sequence of actions (which requires sophisticated neural processing, since these movements aren't natural like walking)
- Attentiveness to communicative movements, which relates to the whole structure of the movements and not just the consequences that come from them
Snowball definitely isn't the first parrot to dance, but he's the first one that's been studied. And I have to say, he's got better dance moves than me.
The team recorded Snowball's dancing for 23 minutes, and a research assistant professor of psychology who double-majored in dance and cognitive science noted the cockatoo's different dance moves. It turns out that Snowball showed 14 distinctive dance moves and two composite moves. He didn't just jump up and down or bob his head, which could be adapted from other movements in life: Snowball created new dance moves as he went along, and rarely used the same moves. He liked to improvise and make up new moves as he went along.
But Snowball didn't stop surprising the researchers there. After the study, they noticed that the cockatoo was doing new movements they hadn't seen before. The new moves weren't copied from Snowball's owner and he wasn't trained - he came up with the routine all on his own. So the scientists came back with more music, and filmed Snowball dancing to another two tunes: "Another One Bites the Dust" by Queen and "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper.
Snowball's grooves tended to last for 3-4 seconds before moving onto a new move, and when he heard the same tune a second time, he danced with new moves, showing that he wasn't attached to certain music-move combinations. He had creativity when making up new sequences (a lot more creativity than most people I know when it comes to dancing).
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