Scientist discover Snowball the cockatoo has 16 distinct dance moves

James Marshall
July 9, 2019

The inspiration for the study began with the pet bird Snowball, a sulphur-crested cockatoo (Cacatua galerita eleonora) whose hilarious dance moves went viral on YouTube a decade ago, as he shimmied to the Backstreet Boys.

But that was merely the start. The authors stressed Schulz didn't train Snowball to dance.

The analyses of the videos revealed that Snowball had a diverse repertoire of 14 dance movements and two composite movements and this behaviour "could be a sign of creativity", according to the study.

Snowball, a sulphur-crested cockatoo, grooves spontaneously to popular music, exhibiting several creative and distinct moves, including head bangs and foot-lifts.

Snowball got down for a Taco Bell ad.

Patel told Newsweek the team were surprised by the "sheer diversity" of Snowball's movements.

Whilespontaneously moving to music is common across humans, it's relatively rare in other species and absent in other non-human primates.

Parrots are obviously renowned for their ability to copy humans, but there's good reason to think Snowball's new dance moves are beyond simple mimicry. He contacted Irena Schulz, who owned the bird shelter where Snowball lived, and with her soon launched a study of Snowball's dancing prowess. But curiously, in the animal kingdom our need to bust a move is almost unique.

The first iscomplex vocal learning, or the ability to learn to make complex novel sounds based on experience of what we've heard.

These include attentiveness to communicative movements, the ability to imitate them and a tendency to form long-term social bonds. They found he synced his movements to the beat even when researchers changed up the tempo. He kept on the beat when the music was slowed down and speeded up, his only encouragement being verbal praise from the sidelines.

The scientists, writing in Current Biology magazine, have said the key question is how Snowball acquired his dance skills, with parrots able to imitate movements.

Looking ahead, Patel and his colleagues are keen to explore this social context and determine if Snowball dances to strengthen his bond with people.

They filmed the 12-year-old parrot dancing to two classic '80s hits: "Another One Bites the Dust" by Queen and "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper.

"Here, we're looking at highly complex movements, many of which are not part of natural parrot behavior", Patel told AFP, adding that this suggests cognitive planning of actions and the willingness to choose between alternatives to respond to a stimulus.

"His owner dances - and she is the first to admit it - by nodding her head and waving her arms, so it's quite plausible that some of these moves are things he came up with himself".

With Snowball living in a bird shelter, Patel concedes that there's a chance an enthusiastic dancer paid a visit and influenced the parrot's creative process. "It's either imitation, which is sophisticated enough or it's actual creativity, which is incredibly interesting". In effect, the discovery indicates that spontaneous dance isn't a human invention, but rather something that occurs when certain cognitive and neural capacities align in animal brains, the researchers said. "We are testing that now", Patel said.

"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.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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