Parrots not only mimic speech patterns and have conversations, but they also have a love of music. Perhaps you’ve seen videos of parrots dancing to the beat of catchy songs. Many people believe this is a trained behavior and that parrots can’t appreciate music, but the truth is more interesting.
Parrots can dance to music. Rather than acting on training or primal instinct, parrots have complex cognitive abilities that mean that they can dance for fun. The same part of their brain that allows parrots to mimic sounds enables them to understand music as they can detect rhythm and move to a beat.
Parrots usually prefer classical, pop, rock, and folk music. Dubstep and other electronic music aren’t usually to their taste. Parrots have an innate ability to react to music, so let them pick their favorites. With that said, most parrots learn dance moves by mimicking their owner. So, you can teach your parrot how to dance.
Do Parrots Understand Music?
According to Current Biology, parrots not only enjoy a good beat, but they can process hearing music. Professor Aniruddh Patel discovered that parrots could spontaneously move to the music.
Dogs, cats, monkeys, chickens, and many other animals can be taught to dance. However, this isn’t something they can do on their own. Trainers have to teach them certain behaviors with a reward system in place. Parrots, on the other hand, can dance unprompted or by watching humans dance.
Along with other findings, this showed that parrots could tell this music apart from other sounds. More importantly, they felt and reacted specifically to it.
Researchers explored many different tests to prove the theory that parrots understand music. The leading explanation is tied to parrots’ ability to mimic sounds.
Why Do Parrots Dance to Music?
In the above study, Dr. Patel postulates that there is a link between:
- An animal’s ability to dance.
- The way their brain works in regards to vocal communication.
Parrots communicate by mimicking sounds they find pleasant. According to PLOS ONE, that even allows parrots to use sounds to call out to each other.
A region of their genome sequence, which regulates brain development. This region is highly similar to our own. It’s what allowed us to evolve with higher cognitive abilities, such as:
- Spatial awareness
Parrots have bigger brains than other birds. They evolved the region in their genome sequence. That gave them the ability to communicate through sounds. This evolved genome sequence created a link between the:
- Area of the brain in charge of auditory sensations
- One in charge of the movement
Why Do Parrots Bob Their Heads To Music?
That link allows parrots to hear music and bob their heads to the beat in perfect synchronization. It’s a natural response that parrots have. Other birds lack it because they either:
- Lack an ability to mimic
- Their ability isn’t well developed
A team at Harvard University further supported this theory. They analyzed over 3,000 videos of different animals (elephants, dolphins, and songbirds) dancing to music. What did all of these animals have in common?
- They were all vocal learners, mostly communicating through sounds
- They all had the ability to mimic movement
Why Do Parrots Love Music?
Having complex cognitive abilities means that the brain can experience the world beyond the limitations of primitive instincts. Humans, who have intricate neurological pathways, can do things for more than just survival. We do things because we enjoy them.
It’s theorized that most animals can’t dance because there wasn’t any evolutionary pressure for their brains to develop the same neurological pathways that allow us to dance. It would take too much unnecessary energy to evolve a more sophisticated brain. As such, most animals’ brains don’t have the capacity for creativity.
This then begs the question: Do parrots love music because they have developed creative brains? In the research done by Dr. Patel, he posited three theories in favor of parrot creativity:
Better Understanding of Bodies
Is parrot dancing a consequence of imitating human dance moves? Then it means that parrots possess the ability to:
- See a being with a different body structure than their own
- Map out the motor pattern
- Replicate it in their own body
This is an incredible feat. It shows that parrots have enough cognitive ability to associate human body parts with their own. The ability to recognize and relate foreign objects to your own body is seen as a byproduct of creativity.
Another theory was based on the fact that parrots don’t dance for an immediate physical necessity. As such, they must possess creativity that resembles that of a human.
Most animals who exhibit creative behavior do so to get something, like food or a mate. Parrots dance to music unprompted and without expecting something in return. This led Dr. Patel and his team to believe parrots dance due to being creative creatures.
In this same study, a Sulphur-crested Eleanora cockatoo was analyzed. The bird would only move its head up and down when its owners first learned it could dance.
After a while, the parrot (named Snowball) developed 14 dance moves and 2 combinations. There was a period of time when Snowball would experiment with different sets of moves. It would focus less on being synchronized and more on what it could do with its body.
Once it got over its experimental phase, Snowball was able to keep rhythm. This form of self-expression and experimentation could only be possible in creative animals.
Is Dancing in a Parrot’s Nature?
Most pet parrots learn to dance by watching their owners. However, is it possible for a parrot that’s never seen someone dance to bob their heads to the sound of music? As it turns out, parrots are natural-born dancers.
Adena Schachner and her team at Harvard University studied an African grey parrot named Alex. When presented with music, the parrot began bobbing his head to the beat. It had never learned this behavior from anyone else.
During the study, the team also found that the two parrots in the experiment (Alex and Snowball) did not automatically respond to music. Instead, they danced only when they wanted to. This indicated that parrots danced to music for the sake of entertainment.
Best Music to Play for Parrots
Playing just any song won’t be enough to get a parrot to dance. A study done by Dr. Franck Péron with three parrots indicated that parrots enjoy:
- Pop music
- Rock music
- Folk music
- Classical music
The classical music seemed to relax the birds and encouraged them to clean themselves. Meanwhile, pop, folk, and rock music made them dance and sing along. They did this both by squawking and saying human words.
What Music Do Parrots Hate?
In this same study, researchers learned parrots have negative opinions about music, too. The one genre of music they hated the most was high-tempo electronic dance music. This made them squawk in distress.
Do Parrots Like Certain Songs?
The parrots showed the same favorable response to the same genres of music. However, they also displayed different preferences when it came to the songs played.
When in the same room, hearing the same song, one or two of the parrots would not dance or sing as enthusiastically as the others. This indicated that parrots have individual tastes in music.
How to Teach a Parrot to Dance
While parrots may dance on their own, they can always benefit from lessons. Taking the time to teach your parrot how to dance will yield great results for its overall happiness.
Parrots have their own taste in music. As such, the first song you play might not be the one to make your parrot dance. Keep experimenting until your parrot finds one it likes.
Parrots are very social, and they like to share experiences with humans. Studies have found that parrots dance for longer when humans or other parrots join in.
Overcomplicated moves might confuse your parrot, just like they would a human who’s new to dancing. The parrot can eventually figure out more complex moves on its own later on.
Parrots respond well to vocal encouragement when dancing.
Parrots dance in short intervals and only when they want to. Keep the lessons short, so you don’t tire out your pet or make it hate the lessons.
Do you have a single parrot or a group of parrots that can’t seem to imitate your moves? Then show them videos of other parrots dancing. This might allow them to understand what they are supposed to do.
Offer your parrot food as a reward when they succeed. What better way is there to get a pet to do what you want?
Select an area of the house where the parrot is most relaxed. Remember that dancing is meant to be fun for parrots. Make sure the lessons take place in a stress-free zone.
Some parrots don’t take to music right away. At first, you should sing a song or two to your parrot, stretched out over a few days. Then, play the songs around the house. Play them close enough that the parrot can hear but far enough away that the music won’t distress the parrot.
Parrots prefer songs with soft vocals in them. Even if you play soothing or upbeat songs (the kinds parrots usually prefer), you might have more luck if the song has vocals.
Why Won’t My Parrot Dance?
If your parrot doesn’t dance despite your best efforts, then don’t worry. You can check a few elements to make sure everything’s okay:
If the parrot isn’t getting proper nutrition, it might not have the energy to dance.
If your parrot is injured or pregnant, it might not be able to move the way it would like to.
Not All Birds Are The Same
Not all parrots like the same music or even want to dance to it. Some parrots have no interest in dancing at all.
Watch for any signs of distress. That’s true even if you are playing classical music and the parrot isn’t screaming at the top of its lungs, begging you to turn the music off. It might still feel too uncomfortable to dance.
Parrots can dance to music. As science has proven, they’re happy to do so. Just be sure to learn what music they like and let them have a good time. By doing so, you can both enjoy a dance party together.