Researchers say that "Snowball developed this behavior spontaneously," and was never trained to dance

By Claudia Harmata
July 09, 2019 11:16 AM

This bird can teach some humans a thing or two about dancing.

Snowball, a groovy, white-feathered cockatoo, made waves on the internet when a video of him dancing to Backstreet Boys’ “Everybody” on YouTube went viral in 2007.

His dance moves caught the attention of researchers, who found that Snowball and his relatives were the world’s first non-human animals that could hold a beat — and on Monday, those same researchers revealed that Snowball is learning dance moves on his own, and has already come up with 14 different signature moves.

“It helps show that this is a more complex cognitive ability than we had even first imagined,” Aniruddh D. Patel, a cognitive scientist at Tufts University and an author of the study on Snowball published Monday in Current Biology, told The Washington Post.

While many other animals can be taught to dance by trainers or their owners, Snowball is able to do it on his own. Those other animals are learning to repeat a movement, because it reaps some reward, like food or a treat. Snowball, on the other hand, is learning the moves based on the music and his own spontaneity.

“Snowball developed this behavior spontaneously,” Patel told the outlet. “He was never given a food reward for any of this. He was never taught to make dance moves.”

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As far as the researchers know, Snowball is only non-human animal that has come up with their own dance to a beat. The researchers believe it has something to do with the presence of five behavioral traits.

“There’s complex vocal learning. There’s the ability to imitate nonvocal movements. There’s the tendency to form long-term social bonds, because Snowball seems to do this as a social bonding behavior,” Patel explained to The Washington Post. “There’s the ability to learn complicated sequences of actions and being attentive to communicative movements.”

Researchers plan to study Snowball further to understand what exactly motivates this groovy bird to dance.