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Drumming Cockatoos

July 3, 2017

Researchers discover that cockatoos use sticks and seed pods to drum out rhythms on tree limbs.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Birds that lay down a back beat. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

For the palm cockatoo, being a rock star drummer is a great way to impress potential mates. This according to Australian National University evolutionary biologist Robert Heinsohn, writing in the journal Science Advances. He and his colleagues observed that the birds grasped hard seed pods with one foot and used them to bang out rhythms, while others used sticks they broke off of trees.

ROBERT HEINSOHN (Australian National University):

And in particular, we were fascinated to find that the tapping sounds were non-random and very regularly spaced, or in other words rhythmic, just like in human music.

HIRSHON:

While many birds show off their skill at singing melodies, and woodpeckers drum out percussive riffs to mark their territory, cockatoos are the first animals reported to use tools to make music. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Bob Hirshon