Dancing bird shows off its moves

Posted by Aharon Etengoff

Chicago (IL) - A dancing cockatoo with a natural Mohawk has demonstrated that animals may adjust the tempo of their rhythmic movements to "stay synchronized with (a) beat."

"These findings indicate that synchronization to a musical beat is not uniquely human and suggest that animal models can provide insights into the neurobiology and evolution of human music," wrote a team of scientists in the latest issue of Current Biology.

The scientists, led by Aniruddh D. Patel of The Neurosciences Institute, studied a sulphur-crested cockatoo (Cacatua galerita eleonora) named Snowball to determine whether animals are capable of musical beat perception and synchronization (BPS). The cockatoo had become famous for "dancing" (including head bobs and foot steps) in a YouTube video. The movements were well synchronized, which implied that BPS might not be a uniquely human ability.

"We used a 78 s excerpt of a song familiar to Snowball - Everybody, by the Backstreet Boys. Because visual inspection of the videos suggested that there were periods of synchrony (synchronized bouts) interspersed with periods where Snowball was dancing but was not synchronized to the music, we used a windowed analysis to determine the location and extent of synchronized bouts in each trial," the report stated.

Snowball's movements during synchronization did not appear to be simple copies of dances typically found in the natural repertoire of sulphur-crested cockatoos. For example, the male courtship display of sulphur-crested cockatoos is brief and involves rhythmic head bobs. However, Snowball displayed a variety of rhythmic gestures in addition to head bobs, but did not engage in figure-eight head movements or courtship-like vocalizations.

"The discovery of synchronization to music in a nonhuman animal shows that a fundamental aspect of music cognition is shared with other species and provides valuable clues about the neurological substrates of this aspect of music. The finding also suggests the utility of developing animal models of movement to music. Such models could have relevance to the study of human movement disorders (including Parkinson's disease), symptoms of which have been shown to be alleviated by moving with a musical beat," the report concluded.

A video of Snowball dancing can be found at: http://sn.im/h2j6m
Snowball's homepage: http://www.birdloversonly.org/blsnowball.shtml