Published: Wed, July 10, 2019
Worldwide | By Isabel Fisher

Snowball the Dancing Cockatoo Knows 14 Dance Moves, Study Reveals | Biology

Snowball the Dancing Cockatoo Knows 14 Dance Moves, Study Reveals | Biology

Now researchers find a cockatoo named Snowball can boogie with the best using a repertoire of 14 dance moves. "The fact that we see this in another animal suggests that if you have a brain with certain cognitive and neural capacities, you are predisposed to dance", he added.

So researchers made a decision to study similarities between Snowball's dancing and that of humans, including body parts used to respond to music and the diversity of steps. Among the most frequent were the "downward" move, the team's term for his signature head bob, the "headbang with lifted foot" and his take on "voguing", in which Snowball rapidly waved his head side-to-side with one claw in the air.

To quantify Snowball's movement diversity, the scientists filmed Snowball grooving to two classic hits of the eighties: 'Another One Bites the Dust' and 'Girls Just Want to Have Fun'. The cockatoo was found to have 14 distinct dance moves.

"What's most interesting to us is the sheer diversity of his movements to music", Tufts University psychologist Aniruddh Patel, who led the research, said in a press release.

Snowball's ability to spontaneously bust a move in response to music is something only parrots and humans do, as far as we know, and it may be because we share a unique set of traits.

Unlike the way humans normally dance, Snowball tended to dance in snippets of about three or four seconds. The findings were published Monday in the journal Current Biology. He contacted Irena Schulz, who owned the bird shelter where Snowball lived, and with her soon launched a study of Snowball's dancing prowess.

The study suggests Snowball may be displaying creativity in his dancing.

The first study showed that Snowball indeed anticipated the beat, bobbing his head and stomping his feet in time to the music.


Patel also warned readers against buying birds like Snowball "just to watch them dance".

He had already been studying people's inherent ability and desire to move to a beat, when he came across the grainy YouTube footage of a white parrot bobbing, kicking and squeaking along to Everybody (Backstreet's Back) by the Backstreet Boys. At first, they were fascinated by his ability to move to a beat, a trait previously only recorded in humans. Moving to music is a universal human phenomenon.

To analyze Snowball's movements, the study's first author R. Joanne Jao Keehn, a cognitive neuroscientist and a classically and contemporarily trained dancer, used frame-by-frame analysis with the audio muted.

After the research, Schulz noticed that Snowball was experimenting with new moves.

"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.

Researchers weren't in a position to rule out then whether or not Snowball had copied the actions of his human owners or if he may adjust his head-bops to completely different tempos.

But nearly nothing - not the dogs and cats we share our homes with, nor the apes and monkeys who are our closest genetic relatives - could do what Snowball does.

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