Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

Cacatua galerita Order: Psittaciformes Family: Cacatuidae (Cockatoos)
Cacatua galerita Order: Psittaciformes Family: Cacatuidae (Cockatoos)

I’ve never been to Australia, New Guinea, or Indonesia, so have never seen a Sulphur-crested Cockatoo in the wild. But one pet made Guinness World Records and I did see videos:

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (Snowball): Most dance moves by a bird. A sulphur-crested cockatoo (Cacatua galerita eleonora) named Snowball – owned by Irena Schulz (USA) of Bird Lovers Only rescue centre in Duncan, South Carolina, USA – has been entertaining online audiences with his coordinated dance routines for more than a decade. However, research conducted in 2009 and in a follow-up study published in Current Biology on 8 July 2019 suggests that there’s nothing random about the “shapes” that Snowball throws to popular music. Analysing six of his videos from September 2008 when the subject was aged 12 years old – in which he is filmed reacting to “Another One Bites the Dust” (Queen) and “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” (Cyndi Lauper) – the researchers identified 14 distinct “dance movements”, including head banging, head shaking and foot lifting. Snowball also demonstrated spontaneity by performing different movements in response to the same parts of a song heard on different occasions.

The 14 discrete dance moves identified from the observations of Snowball were: body roll; counter-clockwise circle head circle; downward head bob; down-shake; foot lift; foot-lift with head swing; headbang; head-foot sync; headbang with lifted foot; pose; side-to-side; semi-circle low head sweep; semi-circle high head sweep; and vogue.

The scientists also found two composite/combo moves: downward/head-foot sync combo and headbang/semi-circle low combo.

The mean duration of each move (or set of successive moves) was 3.69 seconds, though his owner notes that he will continue for longer periods if a human engages and dances along with him. While rhythmic synchronization has been documented in other species, including California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) and Asian elephants (Elephas maximus), to date parrots have demonstrated the most complex and diverse ability to “keep the beat” and move to music (i.e., dance).

The 2019 study was a collaboration between San Diego State University, the University of California San Diego, Tufts University and Bird Lovers Only Rescue Service (all USA). The original study about Snowball, led by Professor Aniruddh D Patel of Tufts University, was published in Current Biology on 26 May 2009.

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