Cockatoo “Snowball” amazes even experts with dance performances

World Dance Day
When animals dance: Dance moves by cockatoo “Snowball” amaze researchers

According to scientific research, cockatoo brains have special processing abilities. This allows them to learn dance moves.

© Chris Putnam / Picture Alliance

Kakadu “Snowball” has been an internet hit for more than ten years with its human-like dance routines. Its movements fascinate even scientists.

His “career” started in 2007 with a Youtube video in which he moves to “Another ones bites the dust”. “Snowball” cockatoo’s owner, Irena Schulz, filmed the animal at his home in Schererville, Indiana. The bird is standing on the back of a chair. As soon as the music starts playing, there’s no stopping him.

The cockatoo performs ecstatic head and leg movements to the Queen classic. His dance delighted millions of people and attracted the attention of scientists. After a study Biologists confirmed that “Snowball” can actually dance, i.e. consciously synchronize its movements with the music.

Cockatoo develops new moves

The bird’s owner noticed that “Snowball” always seemed to develop new moves: the foot stamp, the body wave or the headbanger with raised foot, for example. The bird has a total of 14 different movements in its repertoire, researchers reported after a second study with the animal who loves to dance. The biologists initially suspected that the movements could be innate, as some of them also appear in the bird’s courtship behavior. However, the scientists rejected this theory. “Snowball” was also never trained by its owner.

However, humans could still play a role: the cockatoo may have copied the moves from its owner. The bird has to overcome the so-called correspondence problem by transferring the movements of a body that has a completely different structure to its own body.

Cockatoos have special processing skills

However, it could also be possible that “Snowball” came up with some of his moves spontaneously. That could be related to the ability of cockatoos to learn new people, according to the scientists. The birds’ brains are characterized by “strong auditory-motor connections,” which in turn give the animals “highly developed audio-motor processing abilities,” the study found. Such abilities are lacking in most other animal species.

The YouTube star Snowball has 14 different dance moves - from headbanging to side stepping

Nevertheless, other species in the animal kingdom also have certain dances. Science has long since proven that dance is not exclusively human, explains Martin Ullrich, Professor for Interdisciplinary Music Research at the Nuremberg University of Music. Animals can “move flexibly and rhythmically to music” and even have “musical likes and dislikes,” says Ullrich. But some also dance unconsciously – for example during courtship. Seahorse couples greet each other in the morning with an elegant dance reminiscent of a waltz. Bees, on the other hand, perform the so-called waggle dance to draw the attention of their conspecifics to food.

In nature, cockatoos do not live alone

Cockatoos are parrots, and in nature they do not live alone, but sometimes in huge flocks. If you don’t take care of them enough, they can become lonely and also develop behavioral problems.

Sources: “Current Biology“, German press agency, ORFSouthgerman newspaper“, SWR


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