Doin’ the Pigeon

Scientific American‘s 60 Second Science recently featured another interesting animal story titled “Birds Bop to Beat.” Reporter Karen Hopkin describes how some birds, especially parrots, may be able to groove to music, suggesting that “neural circuits for vocal learning may also enable moving to the beat.” Below is the transcript.

Forget “Polly wanna cracker.” Polly wants to boogie. Or so say scientists in a pair of papers in the April 30th issue of the journal Current Biology. They found that some birds, especially parrots, can bob their heads, tap their feet and sway their bodies to a musical beat.

It’s long been thought that dancing is a uniquely human hobby. Chimps don’t move to the groove. And when was the last time you saw Fido or Fluffy shake their furry booties? But Snowball the cockatoo is another story. That bird’s got rhythm. Researchers found that Snowball can adjust the tempo of his dance moves to coincide with the speed of the music. In this study, the tune was “Everybody” by the Backstreet Boys, one of the cockatoo’s faves.

But Snowball’s not the only bird who likes to boogie. In a separate study, researchers searched YouTube for videos of dancing animals. Of the 1,000 they turned up, only 15 critters actually moved in sync with the beat. Fourteen of those were parrots, one was an elephant. Pachyderms, parrots and people are all vocal mimics. So the neural circuits for vocal learning may also enable moving to the beat.

Of course, I always knew that birds could get down.

Also interesting, an article linked below the podcast, “Bird Brains: Are Parrots Smarter Than a Human Two-Year-Old?