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Snowball the Dancing Cockatoo Video: This little guy can dance!

By Gary Bogue
Monday, May 11th, 2009 at 6:39 am in Dancing cockatoo.


They wouldn’t blow away the competition on “Dancing with the Stars,” but it turns out that some birds got rhythm.

After studying Snowball, a cockatoo that grooves to the Backstreet Boys and about 1,000 YouTube videos, scientists say they’ve documented for the first time that some animals “dance” to a musical beat.

The results support a theory for why the human brain is wired for dancing.

In lab studies of two parrots and close review of the YouTube videos, scientists looked for signs that animals were actually feeling the beat of music they heard.

The verdict: Some parrots did, and maybe an occasional elephant. But researchers found no evidence of that for dogs and cats, despite long exposure to people and music, nor for chimps, our closest living relatives.

Why? The truly boppin’ animals shared with people some ability to mimic sounds they hear, the researchers say. (Even elephants can do that). The brain circuitry for that ability lets people learn to talk, and evidently also to dance or tap their toes to music, suggests Aniruddh Patel of The Neurosciences Institute in San Diego. He proposed the music connection in 2006.

The above video of Snowball bobbing his head and kicking like a little Rockette to music has been viewed more than 2 million times on YouTube since it was posted in 2007. Patel saw it after a colleague pointed it out.

“I was very impressed,” Patel said. So he collaborated with Snowball’s owner in Indiana for a more formal test. That showed Snowball wasn’t just mimicking the movements of somebody off-camera. And Snowball’s movements followed the beat of his favorite Backstreet Boys song, “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” even when researchers sped up the tune and slowed it down.

Actually, Snowball drifted in and out of following the beat, just as a child does, Patel said. But statistical analysis of his head bobs showed they really were related to the tempo.

For those who are REALLY interested in this, Snowball actually has his own Home Page:

I guess this proves it. Dancing is really for the birds. /Gary

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