Palm cockatoos beat drum like Ringo Starr

June 28, 2017
Palm cockatoos beat the drum like Ringo Starr. Credit: C. Zdenek

Professor Rob Heinsohn said while songbirds and whales can belt out a musical tune, few species recognise a beat.

But the shy and elusive palm cockatoo, iconic to Cape York Peninsula in far North Queensland, plays the drums and crafts the sticks.

"The large smoky-grey parrots fashion thick sticks from branches, grip them with their feet and bang them on trunks and tree hollows, all the while displaying to females," said Professor Heinsohn, from the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society.

"The icing on the cake is that the taps are almost perfectly spaced over very long sequences, just like a human drummer would do when holding a regular beat."

Professor Heinsohn said the palm cockatoo's ability to drum has been known for a long time but this is the first research to secure the footage to analyse it.

This was slowly acquired over the seven year study by patiently stalking the birds through the rainforest with a video camera.

"Each of 18 male palm cockatoos, known for their shyness and elusiveness, was shown to have its own style or drumming signature," said Professor Heinsohn.

"Some males were consistently fast, some were slow, while others loved a little flourish at the beginning.

"Such individual styles might allow other birds to recognise who it is drumming from a long way away."

The palm cockatoo drumming is part of the species courtship ritual that involves a lot of calls and movements to attract a mate.

A male palm cockatoo drumming on a nest hollow using a seedpod. Credit: Heinsohn et al. Sci. Adv. 2017; 3: e1602399

The research is part of a broader study of the palm 's conservation needs on Cape York Peninsula where they suffer low breeding success and loss of habitat due to mining activity.

A male palm cockatoo drumming on a hollow tree stump using a drumstick fashioned from a tree branch. Credit: Heinsohn et al. Sci. Adv. 2017; 3: e1602399

Explore further: Researchers reveal baby-killer birds

More information: R. Heinsohn el al., "Tool-assisted rhythmic drumming in palm cockatoos shares key elements of human instrumental music," Science Advances (2017). advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/6/e1602399

Related Stories

Researchers reveal baby-killer birds

October 20, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- The mysterious behaviour of female Eclectus parrots killing their sons immediately after they hatch has been unravelled by a team of researchers from the Australian National University.

Australian parrots need more protection

February 4, 2016

Australia has the world's highest diversity of parrots, but a new analysis by researchers at The Australian National University (ANU) has found the nation's record in conserving these beautiful birds leaves much to be desired.

Cockatoos' family history revealed through DNA

April 6, 2011

Murdoch University researchers have used new DNA sequencing techniques to help give them a better understanding of how cockatoo species have evolved and how they fit together in a family tree.

Cockatoo survival under threat

March 13, 2012

The long-term survival of three black cockatoo species endemic to the south west of Western Australia is under threat.

Swift parrot critically endangered

May 6, 2016

The Australian Government has listed the iconic Tasmanian swift parrot as critically endangered, lifting its status from endangered, following research by The Australian National University (ANU).

Recommended for you

Loose skin and 'slack volume' protect Hagfish from shark bites

December 14, 2017

Chapman University has published new research showing how hagfishes survive an initial attack from predators before they release large volumes of slime to defend themselves. Because the slime is released after they are attacked, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.