A natural Ringo Starr, male palm cockatoos drum unique beats to woo mates

CANBERRA, Australia — Humans are not the only species to create rhythmic love songs in an attempt to court their companions. A new study reveals how the male palm cockatoo, the largest parrot found in Australia, woos prospective female mates by drumming up some lively beats against tree branches.

The study’s findings were the culmination of seven years of patient documentation of the elusive birds’ musical behaviors on Cape York Peninsula in far North Queensland by researchers from Australian National University (ANU).

Their research showed how the palm cockatoo not only knocks its feet against tree limbs, but it taps into its inner Ringo Starr and actually crafts wooden drum sticks and uses them to play beats that are both repetitive and individually unique for potential mates.

Palm Cockatoo
Think humans are the only ones who court mates with rhythmic love songs? A new study finds the male palm cockatoo also woos females by playing drum-like beats on branches.

“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,” explains co-author and professor Rob Heinsohn, of the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society, in a university news release.

Heinsohn and his team monitored 18 different palm cockatoos living in the rainforest, recording 131 drum solos along the way.

The authors note that the birds’ performance style “shares the key rudiments of human instrumental music,” including the creation of sound-making tools and regular beats, the repetition of sound components, individual variations in style, and “performance in a consistent context.”

Some of the males drum fast, some drum slow and some start with a unique opening “flourish.”

“These discoveries provide a rare comparative perspective on the evolution of rhythmicity and instrumental music in our own species,” the authors write.

This palm cockatoo behavior has been long-known by scientists, but not previously well-documented. The species’ mating and courtship rituals also involve multiple types of calls and movements. The video project was conducted as part of a broader conservation study on the birds, relating to how local mining activity has affected their habitat and poor breeding success.

The study’s findings were published in the journal Science Advances in late June.



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