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 gave you one week to think of all those questions that you’d like to ask Irena about Snowball, and the time is almost up! So please post your questions in the comments section below. I will choose the ten best questions and email those to Irena tomorrow, 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 Luna_the_cat
    July 14, 2009

    Can only think of a few obvious questions, really:

    Does he have a preference for certain songs or kinds of music?
    How old was he when he started dancing to music?
    Does he respond to other people dancing — try to sync up with them, pick up new movements or anything?

    As a side note, he seems to be “left-handed” — do parrots and cockatiels have handedness?

  2. #2 Hielochica
    July 15, 2009

    I am very curious how unique this ability to dance is in this type of bird? Are there other similar cases out there?

  3. #3 David Harmon
    July 15, 2009

    Hielochica: One of GrrlScientist’s Sciblings took a look at that. It turns out that a scientist who scoured almost 4,000 Youtube videos of “dancing animals” confirmed that the only ones who were actually able to follow the beat of music (“entrainment”) were from those species capable of mimicking each other’s calls.

    With respect to Snowflake’s dancing in the video, I’d note that besides following the beat, it looks to me like he’s responding to an unseen person, who is mostly right of the camera, but sometimes moves to the left side for a few measures. (Watch Snowflake’s gaze.)

    In related news, the recently-degafiated Dr. Charles briefly discusses animals and music, in the context of a Jon Stewart show featuring Oliver Sacks, promoting his new book Musicophilia. (Dr Charles’ article links this same video, among others.)

  4. #4 eegorr
    July 16, 2009

    Snowball does prefer certain music – if it is too slow or too fast he will lose interest. He is about 11 years old but Irena has only had him for the last two years, so I don’t think she knows when he started. He dances with Irena but also dances on his own.

    As for handedness in parrots… believe it or not, all cockatoos are lefties! Other types of parrots tend to use one foot or the other for important tasks. The easiest way to tell is to give them something to eat – a cockatoo will always hold it in his left foot while balancing on his right.

    We have a medium sulphur-crested (like Snowball) named Jazzy who dances as well. You can see him dancing to his favorite song on YouTube. GrrlScientist, you can ask Irena if she knows about Jazzy and let us know what she says.

    Lastly, for David Harmon… you are close, but it is not birds that mimic each other’s calls who appear to have this ability (like mockingbirds) but those who can mimic speech, especially if they can use speech in context.

  5. #5 Naomi Levine
    April 16, 2010

    Hello, Snowball

    I keep coming back to your video which gives me absolute delight,,you’re such a clever fellow!!

    Question; do you have a girlfriend and, if so, does she dance with you?

    Your fan
    Naomi Levine
    Winnipeg, Canada

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