Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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Snowball, adult male Eleanora (medium sulfur-crested) cockatoo, Cacatua galerita eleanora.

Image: courtesy of Bird Lovers Only [larger view].

I have been working behind the scenes for the opportunity to interview Irena, the woman who lives with the amazing Snowball, the dancing cockatoo. She recently indicated her willingness to be interviewed so I am going to share the fun with all of you, dear readers. I will give you one week to think of all those questions that you’d like to ask Irena about Snowball, so please post your questions in the comments section below. I will choose the ten best questions and email those to Irena, and will post the entire interview here as soon as she returns it to me in email.

To whet your appetite, I have embedded one of Snowball’s videos below the jump for you to watch.

If you wish to read more about Snowball or watch more of his videos, check out the Bird Lovers Only blog. And please don’t forget to post your questions here.


  1. #1 Carrie Burrows
    July 9, 2009

    I love cockatoos but I don’t know if I could handle living with one.

  2. #2 cyberthrush
    July 9, 2009

    Cockatoos are my FAVORITE birds… my only question is, “is Snowball unspoken for and free to boogie Saturday night?” 😉

  3. #3 Arj
    July 9, 2009

    well, 2 things:

    1) some while back I recall an academic researcher studied Snowball’s ability to keep beat to music, and just wondering if there’s been further research done since then, and also if the owner had any qualms about about placing her pet under laboratory conditions?

    2) can I assume Snowball will dance rhythmically to music even in an empty room, or do people need to be present for her to do it (does she need an audience!)?

  4. #4 rcs
    July 9, 2009

    Does Snowball have a preference for certain types or beats of music?

    Does he dance when he’s in his cage or only outside of it?

    In my anecdotal evidence of the birds I’ve lived with, only 2 of the 6 consistently demonstrated an affinity to music. A budgie always preferred 50’s rock and roll. She would ignore any other beats. La Bamba by Richie Valens was her decidedly favorite song. The other bird to show a preference is a female cockatiel who likes old-time twangy country. Walking the Floor by Ernest Tubbs is her accidentally discovered favorite.

    The other birds I live with, including a smart and extremely imitative Senegal parrot, have never shown a reaction to recorded music of any genre.

  5. #5 antichristy
    July 9, 2009

    Has Snowball ever met and danced alongside any other birds who share his appreciation for music?

  6. #6 oscar zoalaster
    July 9, 2009


    Two thoughts come to mind after watching that. The first is that his dance moves vary with the music,he is not just moving in response to the variation in the sound – his movements are coordinated with the sound changes. It would be interesting to try and see what he does with a song that elicits a dance move involving ‘4 steps to the left’ when he is on a perch with only enough room for 3 steps the left…. In other words, how does his interpretation of the music vary with the room he has to express his interpretation.

    The other is that he seems to clearly be performing for the humans, he may have wanted to dance because there was music – but he seemed to recognize that he had been doing something that his friends liked, and to value the approval. (I am completely willing to assume that Snowball’s dancing is not a ‘Clever Hans’ situation, but human approval [i.e. the approval of a person whom he likes] does seem to be part of the phenomena. I’m not quite sure what I am trying to point to here, but this second thought is not a ‘downgrading’ of Snowball’s inclination to dance – and he is definitely dancing – unless it is also a comment on the importance, value, and fascination with, cross-species friendships.)

  7. #7 Ian Paulsen
    July 9, 2009

    Is she planning to write a book about snowball?

  8. #8 Iris
    July 10, 2009

    My question would be:

    1) Has/Can snowball affect your other parrots? Have any of them been inspired to dance because of his influence??

    2) How does Snowball relate to other parrots?

    3) Has there ever been a time that Snowball hears music and refuses/does not to dance?

    thank you-

  9. #9 ddj
    July 12, 2009

    How did you learn that Snowball liked music? Does he show a preference for certain artists / bands? Is there a particular kind of music he likes?

    How did Snowball learn how to dance? Did he see people dancing or did he just start doing it himself?

    Has his dancing gotten more pronounced over time or was it always so pronounced?

    Sometimes he sings to the music. Does that happen more with certain music? What music?

    Does he have an outgoing, showoff personality or do you think he is just dancing because he likes it?

    Are your other birds jealous of the attention he is getting?

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