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!
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.