If you are lucky enough to own a parrot, then it is likely you know about how active they are. Parrots are most easily noticeable because of their beautiful colors, but also because of their uncanny ability to capture and hold everybody’s attention with their amazing ability to dance.
Parrots are a lot like humans when they hear a good beat. They dance in rhythm to the beat of the music they hear, just like humans tend to do when they hear a beat that makes them want to move.
Even if you do not explicitly dance, you likely tap your fingers, tap your does or move your head in time to a song you like when you hear it.
There are scientific reasons as to why parrots dance. In this article, we are going to dive into the many reasons that parrots dance, the purposes behind their dancing, and whether or not it is possible to teach your feathered friend how to bust a move.
Read on to discover why these beautiful birds dance, and how to encourage such behavior.
1. There Is A Link
Parrots and other birds dance in rhythm to the beat of the music they hear because:
- There is an auditory and motor area link in the brain
- The parrots recognize a beat that is good for dancing
- The parrots enjoy the song they are hearing
There is a link between the auditory and motor areas of the brain, says Dr. Aniruddh Patel. Dr. Patel is from the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego. Dr. Patel’s team studied closely the renowned Sulphur-Crested cockatoo, named Snowball. (source)
Cockatoo fanatics may recognize the bird from his viral video from 2007, where he was seen dancing to a pop song by the Backstreet Boys. Dr. Patel noticed that the bird’s movements were in sync with the beat, something that humans usually only did.
Snowball adjusted his dancing when the beat changed-he was really moving to a rhythm! Other videos of Snowball surfaced where he would dance to classic tunes like “Another One Bites the Dust” by the rock group Queen.
2. Are They Mimicking Others?
Suppose you are having some friends over and you are listening to music and your favorite song comes up while you are playing music on your phone. You might be inclined to stand up and dance to the song if you really love it!
But then, your parrot jumps in and starts following suit, jamming out to the music with you and the rest of your friends. You might think “Aw, how cute, he is following along with us!” It leads you to believe parrots could be:
- Mimicking your movement
- Watching performers on television or the computer
- Copying movements of others in the room
But the reason your parrot has decided to join the fun is actually much different. Dr. Patel and his research team played Snowball’s favorite musical tunes at varying rhythms.
He advised his staff that nobody was to react to the music in any way, including involuntary rhythmic movements (like head bobbing or toe tapping), dancing, or singing along with the tunes.
Although the famous cockatoo was not always 100% in rhythm, his tempo would always change in accordance to the music that was playing. This led Dr. Patel and his team to conclude that Snowball had the ability to recognize the beat all on his own.
He had the innate ability to dance using the cues from his own environment, with no need for help from the other people in the room.
3. Could A Parrot Dance Thanks to Training?
It is not clear to Dr. Patel and the rest of the researchers if Snowball could dance thanks to being trained to do so earlier.
There would be much to study about Snowball or any parrot who has the ability to dance:
- Did previous owners train him to dance?
- Did the previous owner dance for fun or profession?
- What songs were played that influence the parrot to dance?
Not much is known about Snowball before the age of six years old, which has led some people to consider that he may have been trained by his previous owners to dance.
The owner who owned him beforehand may also have had a hand in his ability to dance as well.
After all, the owner reports that after he noticed his parrot bobbing his head to the music, he and his kids would make movements with their arms and dance along. Snowball even added moving his feet up and down to his routine.
4. How Would A Parrot Learn to Dance?
Could this be the case? Dr. Schachner from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was quick to wonder. She and her research team recorded a new piece of music and played to the famous parrot Alex, an African gray. (source)
It should be noted that Alex:
- Had learned to perform intricate tasks as part of his time in a 30-year study
- The tasks were related to language and understanding
- This could cement the idea of Dr. Patel that there is indeed a link between the parts of the brain responsible for complex learning of languages, processing of rhythm, and synchronization.
Alex, like all parrots, was very smart. He responded to the new music with a similar accuracy to the rhythm like that of a human.
This led the team to believe that even though he was very smart, his dancing could NOT be the result of training or having heard the songs before.
Once the team had completed the study by watching over 4,000 videos on YouTube of dancing animals, they soon found out the ones that were capable of vocal mimicry (like parrots) were also capable of following a rhythm-which led them to agree with Dr. Patel.
5. What Are the Basics of Training A Parrot to Dance?
Parrot owners know that they are impressionable and have a unique mimicry ability. This means they may be capable of being trained to dance.
Here are some pointers to keep in mind:
- Catch your parrot when he or she wants your attention
- Play a fast-paced song with a good beat
- Do the dance moves yourself while making eye contact
- Be encouraging!
You should start off by doing head bobbing, because it is highly likely your parrot already knows how to do this action.
(Even though head bobbing can have a different meaning. So if your parrot is head bobbing all the time, maybe it is not dancing. Read our article on why parrots bob their heads here!)
This exercise is kind of like a “do like I do” sort of activity, so be ready to act a little silly and perform some crazy movements. It’s a good chance to laugh at yourself if nothing else!
There may be times when your parrot seems a little distressed. If you find this to be the case, put the training on hold and come back later after he has calmed down a bit.
You might also pick up some training toys like bells or other musical objects that are safe for parrots. We will go over some soon. Also, do bear in mind that parrots have rather short attention spans, so do not expect to spend hours training-a few minutes a day is fine.
6. How to Bust A Move (with a Parrot)
Got a signature dance move that you love to pull off? Well, soon your parrot can have his own, too. In this portion, we are going to get a little more specific about what to do when it’s time to teach your parrot to dance. The best pointers are:
- Only train for a small period of time
- Be patient
- Be encouraging
- Put them first
Start off by putting your parrot in a spot that is comfortable for them. They might like the back of a chair, the top of their cage, or a perch. Then, make sure they are paying attention to you.
When they are, turn on the music. Make sure it gets their attention. Once they are looking at you, be encouraging: “Come on, [name]”! (and then you nod your head).
Think of it like how you would encourage a kid to keep on dancing when music comes on. It’s a matter of being friendly and happy toward your bird.
Repeat this behavior and offer a small treat when they start to move. If your bird gets bored or distressed at any time, just take a break. He will learn the move soon enough.
7. Teach Them the Wing Thing
Birds are different than humans in many ways – that’s just common knowledge! You can still teach your bird to stretch his wings, even though we do not have any. For this move, keep the following in mind:
- Tuck hands into your underarms, like when you do the chicken dance.
- Slowly raise your “wings” so they are parallel with your body
- Then give a vocal order, like “Do the wing thing!”
As always, be encouraging and offer a small treat for a job well done. And of course, be sure that you give your bird a pat on the head and show him or her encouragement and praise when they try or even complete the exercise.
8. Do the Dip
The dip is when your parrot rolls his head low and then raises it up again. It sort of looks like a head bob that all birds do, especially budgies. To do this cool move with your parrot, try this:
- Get into the “wing thing” pose with your arms tucked
- Do the dip with them.
- Simultaneously make sure you are giving a vocal command as well.
If you have tried to master other moves, your bird will likely know that it is dance time and will be ready to start with you right away. Just keep at it! Just like with us humans, repetition is key. Offer lots of praise as you work through it.
This video shows pretty well how that should look:
9. Great Dancing Toys
Having a happy bird who is mentally stimulated will definitely help him or her get into the dancing mood. You will do well to pick up some toys that stimulate your birds’ senses:
- Toys that feature bright colors
- Toys that make pleasant noises (Like bells, parrots love bells as we show you here)
- Toys that can withstand aggression or aggressive birds
Parrots and their owners really like the hanging spoons toy for parrots which can be found at a popular online retailer. The toy is called Spoon Delight and parrots everywhere love the way they clink together.
One user even reported that her parrot was fed by spoons as a baby and loves them to this very day.
While they do not inherently inspire dancing, the way the spoons clink together and make sounds can get a parrot in the mood for dancing, or at least get their mood lifted so that they will be ready for dancing by the time you come home or walk into the room.
Plus, they are very durable, so even when your bird is feeling aggressive, they can really take a beating.
10. What Music to Use?
Birds absolutely have musical preferences when it comes to their dancing. Some birds grow to love a song because their owners taught them to like it.
For example, if you start the same playlist every time you and your parrot practice dancing, he will grow to recognize the first song as a trigger and respond to it naturally.
Every parrot is different and will have his or her own preferences, but one article found that:
- Parrots like pop music that is relatively calm in nature
- Parrots enjoy classical and calm music, too
- Parrots do not enjoy fast-paced electronic music. (source)
The best thing to do is try out some of your favorite music on your parrot and see what he or she is into. Or, take a cue from Snowball, throw on “Another One Bites the Dust”, and put on your dancing shoes.
Parrots dance because of a brain connection between the auditory and motor areas of the brain.
And best of all, you can teach them how to get in on the fun-it just takes a little patience, treats, and encouragement-not to mention laughing at yourself!
You will be glad you did when your parrot dances all on his own.