Infamous Self-Taught Cockatoo, Snowball, Knows How to Dance 14 Different Moves

Headbanging, foot-stomping, head-bopping, Snowball the cockatoo can do it all.

Infamous Self-Taught Cockatoo, Snowball, Knows How to Dance 14 Different Moves
Snowball in a Taco Bell commercial YouTube

Snowball, the sulfur-crested cockatoo has become somewhat of a dancing guru, teaching itself 14 different dance moves, according to scientists. 

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Mostly preferring 1980s classics, Snowball can be found headbanging, swinging from side to side, or foot-stomping to the beats of "Girls Just Want To Have Fun," or "Another One Bites The Dust."

The novelty is that the cockatoo has never had a dance lesson in its life, nor has it been taught how to dance by its owners. 

Dancing cockatoo a scientific novelty

This range of dance movements coming from a nonhuman animal is of particular interest to a team of scientists led by Aniruddh Patel, from Tufts University in the U.S., as it could shed light on how animals process music. 

This entertaining discovery, in turn, will lead to answers on the evolution of human musicality. 

The research, in fact, began over a decade ago when Snowball was 12 years old and was found to be dancing hilariously (and quite well) to the Backstreet Boys. 

From then on Patel and his team of researchers has studied how animals process music. 

In 2009, Patel and his team published a study on Snowball in Current Biology showing how he "spontaneously synchronized his movements to the beat of the music, something seen in every human culture but which has never been observed in a nonhuman animal."

14 different dance moves

One of the bigger questions of the study is how Snowball acquired his tasteful and entertaining dance moves. Some may be from observing and imitating his owner's movements, Irena Schulz, as parrots are well-known for their imitation game. 

The scientists also believe that "Another possibility is that some moves may reflect creativity."

They continued: "This would also be remarkable, as creativity in nonhuman animals has typically been documented in behaviors aimed at obtaining an immediate physical benefit, such as access to food or mating opportunities."

"Snowball does not dance for food or in order to mate; instead, his dancing appears to be a social behavior used to interact with human caregivers."

After his initial online success in 2008 which received millions of views, Snowball caught the researchers' attention once again in 2016, when Schulz filmed him dancing an even wider range of moves. 

Snowball danced differently each time a new song or beat came on -- displaying creativity and a sign of flexibility. 

5 traits for spontaneous dancing

Patel and his team suggest five traits that allow humans and parrots alike to dance spontaneously:

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1. The ability for complex vocal learning.

2. The capacity to learn imitation of nonverbal movement.

3. A tendency for long-term social bonds.

4. The ability to learn a complex sequence of actions. 

5. Attentiveness to communicative movements, which relates to the structure of movements and not just the sequence of these actions. 

There may be other parrots or cockatoos out there that are able to dance just like Snowball, but none that have yet been studied. 

Turns out, parrots just want to have some fun too! 

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