Ringo Cockatoo

An Australian native cockatoo has unique drumming abilities, new research has found.

Just like a human drummer, male palm cockatoos (Probosciger aterrimus) use drumsticks from branches and seed pods to beat out a steady rhythm, according to research published in the journal Science Advances.
And it appears they use their drumming, along with a complex array of calls and wing-flapping, to attract female birds.
“Basically the male cockatoo is showing off his prowess at making the drumstick, and then how cleverly he can use that drumstick,” said lead author Professor Robert Heinsohn, from the Australian National University.
While some animals have been known to bob along to rhythms made by others, the palm cockatoos are the first to deliberately set their own rhythm.
And while other animals make tools, it’s almost always for the purposes of foraging for food; like a chimpanzee fishing for termites with a stick or cracking nuts with a stone.
The palm cockatoo’s activity is a whole new context for tool use in the animal world, Professor Heinsohn said.
“It’s the only species that’s known to fashion specific tools for amplifying sound and then to use that to drum in a regular fashion, just like a human drummer would do,” he said.
The palm cockatoo is a large parrot with black feathers, a red crest and red cheek patches. It’s native to Australia’s Cape York Peninsula and New Guinea.
To record its drumming, researchers spent years stalking the elusive birds, learning where they liked to perform. They then captured the show on tape and on film.
They found 131 drumming sequences produced by 18 males.
By measuring the intervals between beats, the team determined the beats weren’t at all random, as first thought, but were occurring in “a remarkably regular fashion”.
These birds were setting a rhythm, rather than just recognising and following one; a first for animals other than humans.
“You imagine your drummer in a rock band, they set the beat. That’s what these birds are doing,” Professor Heinsohn said.
What’s more, the team found many of these cockie drummers had their own individual styles; some like to lead in with a rapid-fire beat and then settle into a slower pace, while others added flourishes to the middle of their “song”.
Professor Heinsohn said it appeared theese birds were adding their own signature to a performance.
“This is just one more component where the male’s demonstrating who he is,” he said.
“And the females pay attention to that as an individual signal.”
Music with a rhythmic beat, usually produced by drums or other percussive instruments, is something common to all human societies, but it is not known why.
Because our closest relatives, the great apes, don’t display any similar rhythm-setting patterns “the human side of the story’s been quite a mystery”, Professor Heinsohn said.
The drumming behaviour of the palm cockatoo shares key elements of human instrumental music.
Not only do they make a sound tool, they produce a regular beat, have repeated components and individual styles, performed in a consistent context.
So, the drumming cockies could provide clues as to why humans began drumming, Professor Heinsohn said.
Although he cautions that birds and humans are very different from an evolutionary perspective, the fact the sexual display behaviour of drumming has arisen in palm cockatoos could suggest one explanation for how humans also came to have a sense of rhythm.
“Whatever it’s evolved to in the current state, it might have arisen in the first instance in a display of males showing off to females,” Professor Heinsohn said.

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