Perhaps you’ve seen videos on YouTube of birds dancing and bobbing their heads to music. Maybe you noticed that your pet seems happy when you play some tunes. You may wonder if parrots, in particular, like music. After all, we’re talking about species known to vocalize and learn new words.
The short answer is yes, parrots appear to enjoy listening to music. However, other factors can influence their response, like what you’re playing.
The Complexity of Vocal Learning
Parrots are intelligent animals. Many accounts exist, from the incredible vocabulary of gray parrots to Australia’s natives that open garbage cans for food. Scientists theorize that birds’ large brain size gives them a greater range of cognitive abilities and can, in turn, increase their longevity 1. It makes evolutionary sense since it can improve their problem-solving skills to avoid threats and help them find food.
The other piece to the puzzle is vocal learning. Parrots stand unique among most members of the animal kingdom. Only dolphins, hummingbirds, and songbirds have this skill. Parrots have taken it to the highest level. Research 2 has shown these species are on par cognitively with primates with smaller neurons or nerve cells in a more compact space.
Another study 3 found a correlation between vocal learning, problem-solving, and brain size. These findings suggest parrots are capable of higher cognitive processing, which may play a role in the avian appreciation for music. This link with vocal learning has been in the works for at least 29 million years in parrots. However, it’s not just about listening passively to tunes; these birds are more involved with it.
Rocking to the Beat
We mentioned bird behavior when music is playing. Interestingly, this behavior isn’t observed in the wild. That points to a human influence with vocal mimicry. Scientists point to the human response to music—keeping up with the beat. One study considered parrots’ take on the tune and the tempo. The researchers worked with internet sensation Snowball 4, a sulphur-crested cockatoo.
Even though the experiment involved only one subject, the bird wasn’t trained to dance for rewards. Instead, the scientists theorized moving to the music was the cockatoo’s way of interacting with his owner. They documented 16 different movement sequences that varied with the song played. Of course, these birds can observe and mimic behavior. The researchers accounted for this possibility in the study.
Other evidence of avian responsiveness to the environment exists with white-crowned sparrows, another species capable of vocal learning. The pandemic provided a novel opportunity to study wildlife in unique conditions with less human activity. Researchers observed the songbirds singing more like their rural counterparts without the distraction of traffic noise in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Parrots can use vocalizations to communicate with specific group members. A study with wild orange-fronted conures showed that they customized their calls to certain birds within their mixed flocks. These findings suggest the ability to distinguish sounds and their purposes, which can influence their musical preferences.
The Evidence for Musical Preferences
Other birds within the order Psittaciformes use mimicry. Cockatiels are well-known for their ability to learn the sounds of household items, such as a telephone ring. The next question is whether these abilities translate into musical preferences.
Much anecdotal evidence exists. However, one study looked at the differences between a pair of African gray parrots. The researchers noted definitive preferences between the two, with one dancing to pop music and the other engaging with easy listening. It’s worth noting that neither bird enjoyed techno-dance music. Being in the same place didn’t influence the other’s response to what was played.
Classical music lovers will appreciate the parrots preening and relaxing when listening to Bach.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do birds learn to like music early in life?
Parrots and other birds that use vocal learning have a sensitive period early in their young lives when it’s easier to pick up songs. Parrots are unique in their vocal plasticity, meaning they retain the ability to pick up new words and songs throughout their lives.
What are some avian dancing moves?
Snowball provided valuable information about how birds dance. Head bobbing and foot lifting are common movements. He also moved his head in circles, struck a pose, and swayed side-to-side.
What are other reasons a parrot may dance?
Parrots are the masters of mimicry. If your pet sees you dancing, they may join the fun. Undoubtedly, they’ll pick up on the positive vibe and interact with you.
Parrots’ talking ability adds another dimension to owning one as a pet. Their appreciation for music makes a person’s bond with their avian companion even stronger, particularly if you both have similar tastes. Undoubtedly, it can bring more enrichment to your parrot’s life if you listen to tunes together. Your pet may even dance and sing along with you.