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Cockatoos, Somehow, Are Able to Drum a Consistent Beat

Only humans are as good at keeping rhythm in the animal kingdom.

While plenty of species in the animal kingdom are known for their songs, there are just two that can keep a beat: Humans and cockatoos. Even chimpanzees, our close relatives, can’t master rhythm when they’re banging on trees. But as this video from Science shows, male palm cockatoos have been observed drumming on tree limbs with sticks and seedpods while trying to attract a mate.

For the study, researchers recorded 18 male palm cockatoos drumming, and analyzed the sounds. They found the birds maintained a consistent rhythm, one that was just as regular and predictable as human drumming. The birds, native to northern Australia, will sometimes sing along with vocalizations, but other times they just drum. The researchers also found that there’s not one frequency the birds prefer to tap at — each bird’s beat is unique.

The other thing that sets these birds apart is their use of tools. Most animals create and use tools for finding and catching food. Anything else might be a waste of energy. But palm cockatoos use tools—sticks and dry seed pods—to beat on hollow tree limbs, something that won’t get them any closer to a meal.

A male palm cockatoo.
A male palm cockatoo. Jim Bendon/CC BY-SA 2.0

Palm cockatoo nests are pretty spread out, but their drumming sounds don’t carry long distances. That means the male birds, the authors write, “appear to be more like solo musical artists or the beat setters of musical ensembles (for example, drummers in western rock bands) who have their own internalized notion of a regular pulse.” They even have the rock ‘n roll hairstyle to match their drumming skills.