Who Rocks? Not just human beings.

How unique are human beings?

If you are looking for characteristics that distinguish human beings from other animals, you can cross “dances to music” off the list.  Recent research suggests that talking animals may have a connection between sound and movement that grounds dancing in rhythmn.  And quite a bit of research of videos on youtube indicates that the talking  birds may share this capacity.  Below are two videos of the amazing Snowbird, a sulphur crested cockatoo.  The first is short and vivid; I suppose it may be enhanced, since it’s a commercial.  The second is long and more of home video, where the home is a bird sanctuary.

When he appears on stage, Snowbird tends to get distracted, so his handler/companion, Irena Shultz, dances with him, as in the following.  He is apparently is quite a complex character, and this is indicated at the end:



9 thoughts on “Who Rocks? Not just human beings.

  1. Although cute, I gotta call foul on owner manipulation. It is not that I am necessarily skeptical of other species being able to display rhythm/dance, I am not sure this shows that it is a thorough going trait of the species itself (it’s only one bird) and there is some reason to believe the owner has trained the bird to act as it does. Note that the owner is seen acting before the bird on the stage (which jj attributes to distraction). And in the other vids, the owner is out of site, but I would bet she is still guiding the behavior from out of the camera range.

    Color me unconvinced.

  2. Flaffer, it’s true that the videos on youtube do not provide very conclusive evidence; have a look at the NY Times article I linked to, or the research report in Current Biology; May2009, Vol. 19 Issue 10, p827-830.

  3. I missed the link in the RSS feed reader to the NYT article. The information in there about the varying tempos and the effect on the movement of the bird is very interesting and does support the point, assuming there was no dancing by the researchers as well. I also wonder why one individual would exhibit this behavior and assumed brain function; to prove the point, I would want to see more widespread examples among Snowball’s species of dancing.

    And prima facie, it seems that if music appreciation is a brain function in humans, it seems it would likely be in other species with similar brain functions (like, for example, homosexual behavior across species).

  4. One aspect of Snowball’s performance that I admire is the fact that when, in a moment of exuberance, he gets slightly off-tempo, he will hesitate a moment with his next movement in order to get back on tempo. (This is especially evident in the middle video.) To me, that shows that Snowball is genuinely listening to music–at least the rhythmic part of it.

  5. Sorry about the link not being clearer! WordPress does not do a good job on making links obvious enough.

    What caught my attention was the idea that there is a brain-based connection between hearing sound and movement in some species. I do think this is all in the very early days of research, where one can publish a paper based on an interesting conjecture and one example.

    To indulge in some more hand-waving: I did see in (one of) the latest Science magazine that there’s quite a large article on language and non-human animals. Birds get a significant portion of that. E.g., it looks as though song birds may learn songs rather as human children learn language. This all seems preliminary, but it is very interesting and may challenge some assumptions. Something to watch.

  6. Introvertica, I admire your powers of observation and, even more, descriptive understanding. I’d noticed the unevenness, but hadn’t seen in it what you discerned.

  7. JJ, thank you. In an earlier life, I was a musician, though not a very good one.

    There’s a really interesting phenomenon–one sees it in crowds–when the whole group will fall behind a lead singer. The problem is that group is not listening, sufficiently, to the lead singer, so they do not self-correct. That’s what makes Snowball so extraordinary. He is (to me) immersed in the music, and as a result is able to self-correct in a way that human beings often do not manage to do.

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