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YouTube Study Shows Dancing Parrots Really do Keep Time with Music

Parrots that seem to dance in synchrony with music have long enchanted us, but were considered more of a curiosity than anything else.  However, Harvard University researchers now believe that the birds actually time their movements to the speed of individual beats, and are dancing in much the same manner as people!

Alex, Snowball and YouTube

Observations of Alex, the now deceased African Gray Parrot known the world over for his intelligence, and Snowball, a Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo who has achieved internet fame as a “dancer”, led the researchers to investigate if and how parrots might be timing their dancing to fit the tunes being played.

Turning to an unorthodox scientific resource – YouTube, the investigators carefully analyzed individual frames of dancing dog, cat and parrot videos, and were amazed to find that 14 species of parrots were indeed keeping time to the music they were hearing.

Only Mimics can Dance

Their results lend credence to the theory that the ability to mimic sounds (possessed by parrots and people) has resulted in a brain mechanism that also allows one to move in time to a beat.  In both sound mimicry and dancing, similar processes are at work – the person or parrot must monitor sound, remember it and then modify its own sounds or movements in response. Regardless of what their owners might say, dogs and cats, lacking the ability to mimic, have no rhythm!

Not All Mimics can Dance!

Of course, there must be more to dancing that the ability to mimic – I believe I speak well enough, but I’d sooner be able to flap my arms and fly than dance!



Further Reading

See Snowball the Dancing Cockatoo perform at the World Science Fair (don’t miss this!).

Further information about this research is posted on Harvard University’s web site.




  1. avatar

    My new rescue Cockateil, Charlie, bobs his head to the music and chirps! It’s so cute! The previous owner said that he danced to music, but last night was the first time I’d seem anything that could qualify as dancing. If I turned the music off, he would stop chirping and dancing, but when I turned it back on, he’d start again. It was the cutest thing ever!

  2. avatar

    Hello Annie,

    Thanks for the post…I’m sure he gets closer to “dancing” than I do! I always thought it was my imagination when it seemed to me that some parrots really seemed to be keeping time with the music, but it seems they do…

    Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

  3. avatar

    I used to own a greek-cheeked conure named Jester. He would love to dance to music, especially hip hop. My mother would call it “kumtha” which is Urdu for spinning because he danced in circles.

    I notice that my budgie, Birdie, too has a keen sense of rhythm. He sets his vocal level to that of his surroundings and his chirps are in sync as well!

  4. avatar

    Hello Ahmad, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog. Great story, thank you!

    Glad you brought up the vocal level point – I’ve noticed that myself, but didn’t mention it in the article. Even in a crowded zoo exhibit, parrots in different areas seemed to set their pitch to what was going on around them.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  5. avatar

    You picked a great topic for this post and you wrote about it well. I have seen a few other internet sites with comparable content but no one has completed a better job than you on writing about it.

  6. avatar

    Thanks for your interest in our blog and the kind words; much appreciated. I look forward to hearing from you in the future.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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