Snowball, The Dancing Cockatoo Dances to a Familiar Song

You’re driving in your car or perhaps you’re sitting at your desk and all of a sudden a familiar song plays on the radio. Your body will almost always respond in a physical way. You might begin to tap your foot or bob your head and you may not even realize what you’re doing. This is called “entrainment”, the synchronization of organisms to an external rhythm. For the longest time, scientists thought this was only a human behavior.

That was until Snowball the Cockatoo was caught on tape showing off his best dance moves to “Another Bites the Dust”. In the YouTube video, Snowball shows that he has the ability to keep perfect time to the music. Viewers fell in love and scientists were baffled.  Aniruddh Patel, a leading neurobiologist at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego, became particularly interested in Snowball and wanted to investigate whether or not his ability was a learned behavior or natural instinct.

Irena Shultz, Snowball’s owner, was more than happy to share his story…she got Snowball after the previous owner had to give him up because “he was a handful”.  However, Schultz realized right away that Snowball loved music and even had his favorites.  So after learning about Snowball’s musical preferences, Patel played the music to create significantly slower and faster versions. If Snowball’s ability to keep time was simply a learned behavior, he would not be able to keep time to the manipulated tracks.  However, much to Patel’s surprise, Snowball adjusted his dance movements to match the new rhythms.

Researchers also began to study different species of birds and found that the Gray African Parrot also had the ability “to dance” and keep time with the music.  This then begs the question: of all the animals in the animal kingdom, why do birds with higher cognitive ability seem to have rhythm?  Research has shown that birds who can speak words and mimic vocalizations may have the brain circuitry similar to humans that allows them the ability to keep time to music.

Snowball, continues to be a star making appearances on TV shows and he has his own YouTube channel.  To see more videos of Snowball’s sweet moves, check out the Youtube channel: BirdLoversOnly.   


Abigail R. Hanlon

Music Therapy Student

Marywood University / King’s College, London