Snowball Dancing Parrot with Lifted Foot – Scientists Learn Why Music Makes Us Dance

Scientists have decided to study the neural and cognitive capacities of the humans that make them dance on music. For this purpose, they have selected the footage of the dancing parrot, Snowball, who’s famous for dancing and headbanging, once the music is on. 

How Humans and Parrots Behave When They Listen to Music?

Snowball is a sulfur-crested cockatoo who not only bobs his head when he hears music, but he headbangs as well. Actually, he vogues and headbangs with a lifted foot.

The scientists proclaimed him as the first non-human dancer back in 2014 because he could move to a music beat. Although he had poor movements back then, they were much more coordinated than random movement.

They’ve now decided to analyze the footage of the bird dancing to the music. Since they found out that he’s capable of spontaneously inventing a diverse array of new movements. That’s amazing because only humans and parrots seem to do.

The researcher at San Diego State University, R. Joanne Jao Keehn, shared his point of view that the species that are closer genetically to humans could show similar behavior. However, this dancing behavior can’t be seen in chimpanzees, though, they are expected to show similar behavior as humans in many situations.

According to the researcher, parrots are unique, when it comes to certain neural and cognitive capacities that they possess. It’s because of these capacities, that they start to dance when they hear the music.

The initial footage of Snowball came out in September 2008, when he was 12 years old. His owner, Irena Schulz, filmed him while dancing. Though she did not dance herself; and only offered occasional words of encouragement like “good boy!”.

The scientists have claimed that the dance moves of the parrot are clearly intentional. However, they are not an efficient means of achieving any plausible external goal like basic locomotion.

Since his dance movement neither last for at least six video frames nor occurred twice in the video sessions, it couldn’t be counted as an official dance move.

But surprisingly, Snowball invented 14 dance moves. Out of which, two composite dance moves can be tried at home. The researchers named his moves as body roll, headbang, anti-clockwise circle, downward, down-shake, foot-lift, foot-lift down-swing, headbang with lifted foot, head-foot sync, side-to-side, pose, semi-circle low, semi-circle high, vogue, downward head-foot sync, and headbang/semi-circle low interchanged.

The researchers observed that the parrot typically continued the same move for less time than a human. However, it would dance a little differently when someone dances with him versus when he dances individually.

The scientists are wondering how he came up with such moves. It’s possible that he might be copying human dance moves and he’s somehow able to map human movement patterns onto his own body. It’s also possible that it might be own creativity.

They hypothesized the dance moves arise from the combination of five traits that parrots and humans share. These traits include vocal learning, paying attention to certain movements for communicating, ability to learn these complex action sequences, non-verbal movement imitation, and forming long-term social bonds.


According to another researcher, dancing isn’t considered just a sign of intelligence, but a sign of complex social behavior. The parrot’s dancing behavior to music might not be driven by a simple, inflexible mechanism. There must be some neural mechanism that can flexibly generate complex, varied behavior that coordinates with music.

They claimed that other parrots can dance, too, and they would like to see measurements of those parrots’ behavior to determine how common dancing is and across which species?


This research pushes us to think of parrots as capable of something that is deeply similar to human behavior. This sheds new light on the broader question of how humans and parrots around the world have got the ability and deep motivation to move their bodies to music.


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