Give Now  »

wfiu logo
WFIU Public Radio

wtiu logo
WTIU Public Television

Choose which station to support!

Indiana Public Media | WFIU - NPR | WTIU - PBS

Noon Edition

Dancing Birds Get Funky With Rhythm

If there's any one thing that really separates humans from most other animals, it's our ability to get funky. When's the last time you saw a lion, or a giraffe, or even a chimpanzee, do the Funky Chicken or the Electric Slide?

Bobbin' Birds

There is one other species that can hold its own on the dance floor – birds. A few studies have shown that some parrots and cockatoos can bob their heads and sway in time to music. A simple YouTube search for "dancing birds" turns up many examples, such as this one:

Sound Mimicry

So why are birds rhythmically endowed and not, say, chimps, our closest animal relatives? Probably because birds, unlike chimps, but like people, can mimic sounds.

When a parrot squawks out a human phrase or impersonates a sound effect, it's doing two things: processing the sound it hears, and monitoring the sound it makes in imitation. Something similar goes on when we dance-we hear the music, and also somehow coordinate our bodies to move in time to it.

Evolution of Dance

Scientists speculate that humans evolved the ability to dance as a by product of learning to speak by imitating sounds. Or maybe dancing evolved alongside sound mimicry.

In any case, it's interesting that the only animals besides humans that can dance are birds that mimic sound. It suggests that the two traits are related.

Further Reading

If you're interested in learning more about these birds with groove, check out this article from Live Science.

Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From

About A Moment of Science