Work That Beak

The news has been chock-full of exciting and interesting items lately. Today we learn that Harvard researchers, after careful study of video clips of Snowball the Cockatoo, have concluded that we humans are not the only species capable of rhythmic movement. (Indeed, this precious gift does not even extend to all members of our own species, as anyone will know who has ever listened to a roomful of white people clapping along with the band.)

This all might have been obvious, I should have thought, after a moment’s reflection upon the many rhythmic patterns and complexities of birdsong, but the boffins must be more thorough than we laypersons, I suppose. At any rate, it appears the blessing of natural rhythm is shared by “14 types of parrot species and one elephant”. (I am not sure what a “type of species” is, but that must be a very proud elephant, and the envy of his chums.)

The story also informs us that one “Alex, an African grey parrot”, particularly enjoys dancing to drum tracks, but this veers, I think, dangerously close to invidious stereotyping, and we won’t dwell on it.

You can see Snowball cutting a rug (well, the back of a chair, actually) here, and read the story here.


  1. bob koepp says

    I haven’t seen “Bambi” since I was a wee tyke, but I think Thumper tapped a mean beat. Oh, and if you’ve ever watched any animal run, unless they demonstrated some sort of “rhythm”, they didn’t get beyond the first couple steps before taking a dive.

    Posted May 1, 2009 at 11:25 am | Permalink
  2. JK says

    Malcolm, I rather thought you might be “on to something” when you included in your post,

    “I should have thought, after a moment’s reflection upon the many rhythmic patterns and complexities of birdsong…” and so it turns out:

    “Some vocal-mimicking animals, particularly parrots, can move to a musical beat”

    Unfortunately I’ve found no “boffinspeak” as to why I can’t clap to any tune other than “Old MacDonald Had A Farm.”

    Posted May 2, 2009 at 1:42 pm | Permalink
  3. JK says

    Unfortunately too (before you get a chance to reply Malcolm) I failed to read who funded the research.

    Make that, “Old McDonnell Had A Farm.”

    And no. I’ve come across nothing that explains why a certain type of elephant got rhythm. But I would wager that elephant can’t jump either.

    Posted May 2, 2009 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

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