Posts Tagged ‘Parrot’

Fleeing the Flames

June 27, 2016 Leave a comment

Back to blogging again! My life has been very crazy during the past couple of months. I was offered a new job working as a biologist specializing in birds that required me to move to Fort McMurray, Alberta. The job started in May and my husband and I decided that I would move up first with five of the parrots and Micro the Maltese, while he stayed behind with the rest of the pets to prepare our house for sale.

The five parrots to come with me were Pteri (Blue and Gold Macaw), Mitri (Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoo), Ripley (Red-lored Amazon), Chiku (Green-cheeked Conure mix), and Dip (Rose-crowned Conure). Sadly, Peggy, my Jenday Conure (who I named this blog after), had passed away in November, 2015. Otherwise, she would have come with me as well. Dip is a new bird I got in December 2015.

I moved up April 30 and during the evening of May 1, I noticed a huge cloud of smoke coming up from the south of the city. I later found out that a forest fire had started there, and that it had started to spread very quickly.


Picture of smoke taken May 1 2016. Fort McMurray.

Most of the city was extremely smoky on May 2 and a few communities in the southern part of the city were ordered to evacuate but I wasn’t affected. On the morning of May 3, everything looked quite clear but the city fire chief noted that this was deceptive, as the smoke from the fire was staying near the ground due to the weather conditions. He warned people that the fire was not under control.

By the afternoon, I could see heavy smoke coming from two different directions, and bits of burned debris (including conifer needles) were falling from the sky. More parts of the city were ordered to evacuate, and I was starting to think that I would have to evacuate as well.


This did not look good. Picture taken May 3 2016, Fort McMurray.


Ash falling on the windshield of my car.

Unfortunately, my car was very low on gas, and by the time I was able to try to fill it up, gas stations in the area of the city I lived in had run out of gas. Luckily, I was able to get out of town with a co-worker and we were able to take a work truck.

Once the part of town I lived in was ordered to evacuate, I had to gather up my parrots and dog, and decide what to bring with us. I had no idea how long this evacuation would go on or where we would end up. I did have five carriers handy – one for each bird – but Micro would have to leave with just his harness and leash. When packing supplies, the first thing I thought of were the parrots, and I packed bags of parrot pellets, small bowls, several towels, newspaper, and several bottles of water. I also prepared a big Ziploc bag of dog food, which I ended up forgetting. This meant that Micro got to eat a lot of people food during his adventure. For me, I brought some toiletries (toothpaste, soap, etc), socks, underwear, my laptop, and a book. My co-worker picked us up in a truck and we headed out.

Getting out of town took a long time as there are only two roads out of the city – Highway 63 going north or Highway 63 going south. We were in the northern part of the city so we went north.  All of the radio stations in Fort McMurray had stopped broadcasting so we listened to CBC (the national radio station) for updates.


Gridlock in Fort McMurray

There is only one hamlet north of Fort McMurray that can be reached by road, which is the First Nations community of Fort MacKay. The town did generously house many evacuees but there was no way it could handle the tens of thousands of people who had to flee north. This left various work lodges as potential evacuee destinations. There are many oil extraction operations north of Fort McMurray and there are a lot of lodges there that house workers at these operations. Some of them are huge and can house a few thousand people.

Numerous work lodges opened their doors to evacuees and a lot of the larger oil operations sent workers home to make room for evacuees. After several hours of driving north, we saw a person holding a sign saying that the Shell Albian Sands camp was open and had room for evacuees so we headed there.

It took us about eight hours to arrive at the camp. Under normal circumstances, it takes about 45 minutes to make the same drive. Because of the fuel shortage, some people had to abandon their vehicles at the side of the road. However, the police were patrolling the roads to help people who had run out of fuel. I also saw people heading north riding on ATVs.


Vehicles heading north on Highway 63.

Once we got to the Shell camp, we had to park the truck in a lot and wait in a line outside for a bus to shuttle us to the camp. The parrots were surprisingly calm given the circumstances and they attracted a lot of attention. Pteri in particular generated a lot of interest as she would say “Hi!” to people. I did have to warn people not to put their hands in the bird cages, as all the birds were tired and probably cranky. Micro, however, was happy to have attention and a lot of kids petted him. There were also a lot of other dogs waiting in the line, and even a few cats. As far as I know, all of the lodges taking evacuees were allowing pets of all types.

The shuttle bus arrived and luckily I had a lot of help getting the five birds onto the bus. They had never really ridden on buses before but they were very quiet. Once we arrived, we had to stay in a common area as the camp was saving rooms for people with small children or health problems. We were given a bunch of blankets and pillows by the staff.

I stacked the parrots by a wall and made sure they all had food and water. It was about 2 am by the time I got everyone settled. I also covered Pteri’s cage with a towel as she would screech when she saw people get too close to her cage. Having the towel over her cage seem to calm her down.

I tried sleeping on the floor. Admittedly I did not get much sleep as my dog was, understandably, rather agitated so he whined a lot. He was in a room with other dogs, a few cats, and many stressed and upset people. Many of these people had lost their homes and those who hadn’t were worried that they would. I had to take Micro outside a few times for bathroom breaks. At one point, I tied him to my heavy bag and tried to rest, but he backed out of his harness and wandered around the lodge. Someone found him and called my cell number (which was on Micro’s collar tags).

The next day, we were able to get a little room, which relieved me as I think the parrots were getting a stressed at this point. I was able to give each bird some time out of their cages to stretch their wings. We had a luggage cart they were able to perch on as well. They all seemed quite content once we got into a room. They were fairly quiet, and spent their time napping, preening, or eating.


Mitri perches and preens on a luggage cart

The birds had enough pellets to eat, but I was able to get them some vegetables and fruit from the cafeteria. Evacuees were able to eat for free at the large cafeteria that is normally used by the workers who stay at the lodge.

We stayed at the lodge for a few days, but then they started to fly people out to either the Calgary or Edmonton airports. People and animals were being flown out at no cost from the oil sands aerodromes. A few of the oil sands mines have their own private aerodromes that they use to fly workers in and out and Shell is one of them. I signed up to fly back to Edmonton. All of my birds except Chiku (whose carrier would fit under the plane set) would have to fly in the cargo part of the plane but I was assured that they would  be safe. I have to admit I was worried about them. I wrote each birds’ name, my name, and my cell phone number somewhere on each carrier.

To get onto a flight, I had to wait in a long line with the birds’ (in their carriers) on a luggage cart. Of course, they attracted a huge amount of attention. Pteri even delighted a group of people by saying “Good Morning” to them. Most of the time, though, I kept her cage covered with a towel, which seemed to reduce her stress levels. The other parrots were surprisingly calm.


The parrots waiting in line for their flight.

We had to take another bus ride to get to the aerodrome but that went smoothly. Micro and Chiku rode in the passenger section of the plane and the other birds went to cargo.


Mitri and Dip ride the bus.

All of the birds and Micro were fine after the flight and they got to ride in a taxi to get back to my place in Edmonton. I had a few spare cages there that my husband and I had intended to sell but hadn’t done so yet. The birds had to stay in these cages.

For a little while, I wasn’t really sure if all the things I had moved to Fort McMurray survived the fire. I saw on the news that several homes a couple blocks from my place had burned to the ground. However, I saw on a later report that my place was okay.

I wasn’t able to go back to Fort McMurray until June 3. There was no major damage to my place and I was able to move the five parrots back up there to their bigger cages. I was also able to retain my job up there. Sadly, many other people were not so lucky, as about 2500 homes were destroyed.

I had a place to keep my parrots while I was in Edmonton but not all evacuees had a place for their pets. One local parrot supply store, Meika’s Birdhouse, generously offered to look after parrots belonging to evacuees. There is a news story about this here:

I never really thought I would have to evacuate during an emergency. I’m glad I had enough carriers for my birds and that I was able to get them out safely.


Escape Artist Cockatoos

September 4, 2011 1 comment

Cockatoos have reputations for being escape artists, and various padlocks and clamps are often needed to keep them in their cages.

MyLesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Mitri, can easily open the door from his spare cage downstairs. His main, big cage is upstairs, but he spends a lot of time downstairs. He dislikes all the parrot play stands I’ve gotten him, so he has a spare cage downstairs he can hang out on. He’s rarely ever locked in that cage.

Here he is getting out of it:

Mitri is also very proficient at taking nuts and bolts out of his big cage. My husband had to replace all the regular nuts and bolts in Mitri’s cage with lock nuts that Mitri can’t get off.

Mitri can also easily escape from his little travel cage. He did this when my husband and I took him to a parrot club meeting. He was in his travel cage talking to himself and he suddenly went quiet. I then noticed that he was perched on the seat between my husband and me. After he was put back in his cage, Mitri just popped the door open again, so my husband had to hold the door shut for the rest of the ride.

Mitri taking his cage apart.

There are lots of other Youtube videos of cockatoo escapes. Here are a few more (note that these aren’t my birds):

There are more: just search “cockatoo escape” on youtube.

Cockatoos are really amazing birds.

Chiku! the Pyrrhura Conure

August 14, 2010 1 comment

Last year, in December, I took on a new foster bird named Chiku! He’s apparently a hybrid of yellow-sided Green-cheeked Conure and Crimson-bellied Conure, possibly with other Pyrrhura species in there. I can’t help but wonder if someone was trying to create a very wildly-coloured orange conure by trying that cross. Of course, it didn’t work since the yellow-sided trait in green cheeks is recessive. Chiku! doesn’t have the bright crimson on him from the Crimson-bellied Conure either. That’s okay – he’s still an attractive little bird.

Chiku! hanging out in the paper holder.

I first described Chiku! in my post about hybrid parrots, which is one of the more popular posts on this site. Chiku’s not too unusual looking, since he’s a cross of two very similar species, and he looks very much like a Green-cheek conure with a bit of extra blue shading and extra red under the wings. He’s one hell of a guy so I’m going to write a little more about him. This post isn’t meant to be all that educational, but Chiku!’s such an interesting bird that I have to write more about his personality. I think he’s a boy, but I can’t be 100% sure. I’m getting him DNA sexed at the end of the month.

Chiku! is such a fun bird that I recently applied to permanently adopt him. I really enjoy the Pyrrhura conures, and Chiku! will be my second one, as I already have a Maroon-bellied Conure, Lucy, who I wrote about Here: Living with a Maroon-bellied conure.

Chiku! is a lot different from Lucy. He’s quite a bit younger (he’s a little over a year now) and is about twenty times more energetic. While Lucy is calm and docile, Chiku! is a complete firecracker. When he’s out of his cage, he’s on a non-stop spree of crazy.  Destruction is his favorite activity and I have to make sure he doesn’t go on  my laptop as he removed several of the keys and I had to replace the keyboard. He loves shredding anything – especially books – and throwing the debris around.  I’ve had to work at trying to convince him that when he eats messy food that produces crumbs or juice (such as crackers or berries), that it’s not necessary for him to eat them while standing on top of my head. The top of my head is his favorite perch, and he likes to hang over my face, clinging to my hair, and preen my eyelashes and eye brows. He loves to go down my shirt as well, and stick his head out over the top. He hates my husband and wants to rip his ears off.  Chiku! will even try to walk downstairs if my husband’s there in order to find him and bite his ears. We are working on that behavior and my husband can now at least pick up Chiku! without winding up with a bird as an earring. Biting men’s ears is one of Chiku!’s little vices (passions, even) as he badly bit the man at the last place he stayed at. His nickname is “Man-seeking Dart.” I can handle Chiku! just fine and he’ll even lie on his back on my hand. I don’t know much about Chiku!’s past so I’m not sure how his dislike of men developed, although I do what I can to prevent him from nipping anyone. I’ve been doing a bit of clicker training with him and he’s a very fast learner, as is Lucy the Maroon-bellied Conure.

Chiku! gets a drink of water.

Chiku! likes to say his name over and over again, quite loudly, in several different tones of voice. I have no idea if he was named after his vocalization or if he was named “Chiku” and then learned to say his name. I spell his name with an exclamation point because it just seems to suit him.

He has learned how to imitate Peggy, my Jenday Conure, and can say, “Whaaaaaat??” in this surprisingly indignant and sarcastic-sounding tone of voice. Peggy sounds like a Blue Jay, only more shrill, and Chiku!’s imitation of that is even shriller still.  He insists on sharing anything I may be eating or drinking in front of him which is fine almost all of the time, since most of the food I eat is okay for birds. However, he can’t have coffee, and if I have coffee while Chiku!’s out, he’ll violently protest by pecking on the lid of the coffee cup and making these angry mumbling noises. He’ll simmer down if I get him a little cup of juice to drink out of. He can only have pure juice that doesn’t have any extra sugars added, and the juice I usually give him is carrot-blueberry.

Chiku! shares my herbal tea.

Chiku! shares my herbal tea.

I kind of wanted to keep Chiku! very early on in his foster period with us. But, if a better home applied to adopt him, I decided I’d let him go. However, most adopters were a bit turned off by his biting-men’s-ears-and-faces habit. Go figure. The parrot rescue that Chiku! was surrendered to held an adoption day at the local Humane Society in June and I figured that I’d take him and that if no one adopted him, I’d keep him.

Chiku! didn’t behave too badly at the adoption day and mainly stayed in his cage. When I took him out, he mostly stayed under my hair on my shoulders and basically clung to me. He wasn’t adopted, so I decided to keep him and just submitted my formal application to adopt him.

Chiku! on his play gym, with Ripley in the background.

I’ve noticed that, often, small birds are seen as being “starter birds”  – the ones that people should get to gain “experience” before getting a bigger bird. However, as Chiku! demonstrates, the small conures are just as smart and interesting as the larger parrot species. I have a couple bigger parrots (a Red-lored Amazon and a Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoo) and still decided to get another small conure because I just enjoy these little birds so much. Chiku! needs as much attention as the bigger birds.

Strategies to Utilize when a Flighted Parrot Escapes

November 16, 2009 1 comment

Webmaster’s note: Here is the last of four articles by Barbara Heidenreich that I am posting.  It’s about what to do if your parrot escapes.


Strategies to Utilize when a Flighted Parrot Escapes

By Barbara Heidenreich


My blue fronted Amazon parrot, Tarah, does not have clipped wings. However like many birds that were clipped during the fledging process, he has never quite learned the kind of flight skills that might earn him the title of a “flyer”. I often said “He’s has his flight feathers, but he doesn’t fly.” One day I learned, the hard way, that this wasn’t exactly true.


I was visiting my parrots as I was moving from southern California to northern California. When I arrived I brought Tarah in his cage to my old bedroom. I opened the door to the cage to allow my bird some much needed free time. Before I knew it, he bolted off his cage, through the bedroom door, took a right and made his way down the hall. He then banked left and flew through the living room. At that very moment my father was just opening the sliding glass door to step out onto the deck. Guess who went through the door too? The deck was on the second floor, so my bird had two stories of lift to assist him on his grand flight down the fairway of the golf course behind the house. Thank goodness he was a green flying brick. He ran out of gas and slowly descended to the soft green grass before a tree offered its branches as refuge. Juiced by adrenalin, my feet barely touched the ground as I ran after my bird.


I have always been very careful about the choices I make having a flighted bird in the house. But I was very surprised by the amazing flight my bird made on that day. Sometimes birds that we think will never fly do indeed fly. Sometimes birds that have flight feathers trimmed surprise us when feathers return. Sometimes experienced flyers get frightened or find themselves in unfamiliar territory. Whatever the situation, there are some strategies that can be very useful to recovering a bird that has flown to a location undesired by you. The following information is provided to prepare you for that day when your bird may find itself airborne and heading in the wrong direction. These strategies apply if you bird has no flight skills or is a world class flying athlete.


Bird is flying away

  • Call to your bird loudly as he is flying- it may help him find his way back to you.
  • As your bird is flying, do not take your eyes off of him. Note the last place you saw him, the level of his flight, how tired he looked. He may have landed in that area. (Radio or phone contact for a group of people searching can be very helpful in this situation. Grab your cell phone!)


Searching for your bird

  • If you have a group of people, spread out and circle the area you last saw him.
  • If you cannot locate him, call to him. He may call back. Say words or sounds he knows or mimics. Most parrots are located by their screams.
  • If he has another bird he likes, put that bird in a cage and bring it to the area you last saw him. Walk away from the bird in the cage. It might encourage the bird in the cage to scream. This may inspire the lost bird to scream. Keep talking to a minimum so you can listen for the scream.
  • Look carefully in a limited area (within 1 mile) in the early stages of your search. Parrots usually do not go far unless, blown by the wind, chased by a bird of prey or extremely frightened.
  • Keep in mind your parrot may see you before you see him. When this happens, parrots are sometimes very quiet. This may be because the parrot is more comfortable now that you are present.
  • Despite some parrots bright colors, they can be very difficult to see in trees. Look for movement buried in the trees as opposed to your whole bird perched prominently on the tree.


You have located the bird, but he is out of reach

  • Once you find you bird, relax (unless the bird is in immediate danger.) It is better to let the bird sit where he is (if he is inaccessible) while you work out a strategy. Do not frantically try to grab the bird, hose or scare him down.
  • If the bird has just landed. He will probably not fly again (if at all) for awhile.
  • Bring the bird’s favorite person and/or favorite bird friend (in a cage) to the area where your bird is located.
  • Bring favorite food items, familiar food bowls and the bird’s cage if possible.
  • Be careful not to ask your bird to fly from a great height or a steep angle. Try to position yourself (or bird buddy, or bird cage) to allow short flights or short climbs to lower places.
  • Try to lure your bird to fly or climb to branches/objects that are similar to those upon which he is sitting if possible. A bird may be too frightened to climb onto a distinctly different perch. (For example, the bird might be afraid to climb off of a tree onto a fence.) If you have no other option, expect the process to be slower and be patient with your bird as he builds his confidence. He may also fly again if he touches the new perch and is frightened by it.
  • Do not raise unfamiliar objects up to your bird to have him step onto it. More than likely this will only scare your bird to fly farther away. If you have a familiar item, you may have a chance that the bird will step onto it. Keep in mind things like ladders, people climbing trees, cherry pickers etc. may also scare your bird. Go extremely slowly if you resort to using these items. Stop any action if your bird looks like he wants to fly away.
  • Try to call your bird down when his body language indicates he is ready to try to come down. Do not constantly call.
  • Try hiding from your bird on occasion. This will create a level of anxiety in your bird which may cause him to try to come to you once you reappear. Usually birds will scream and or start moving around a lot when they are ready to make an effort to return to you. If you notice this activity, come out from hiding.
  • If you hear your bird screaming while you are hiding, he may be ready to fly or is already in the air. Come out of hiding right away. Most parrots scream when they are flying in this type of situation.
  • Birds also often relieve themselves and also scream right before they fly. Be alert for this. You may need to see where your bird flys. Be ready to run if necessary.
  • Avoid having a crowd of people around the bird’s favorite person. A scared bird may not want to fly into a crowd of strangers. Give the bird’s favorite person lots of room.

The sun is setting and your bird is still out.

  • Parrots will usually fly again shortly before the sun starts to set. This is probably your last opportunity to get your bird back before he will begin to roost for the night. Take advantage of it. You can try to get the bird “pumped” up by yelling and creating a level of excitement. This may encourage one last flight.
  • As the sun starts to set, your bird will start to fluff his feathers and get ready to roost for the night. At this point it is best to just allow him to go to sleep. Keep an eye on him until the sun has set completely. Remember his exact location.
  • Before the sun rises the next day, return to that location. Your bird should still be there, unless he was frightened in the night (owls can cause this).
  • Usually by 8:30 or 9:00 AM your bird will be ready to fly again or make an attempt to get to you. Repeat the steps described in the section “You have located your bird, but he is out of reach”.


Your bird has flown off and after 24 hours of searching he has not been spotted.

  • Contact the following people and let them know you are looking for your bird. If a person finds your bird they may contact one of these organizations.
    • Call animal control
    • Call the SPCA/humane society
    • Call local veterinarians
    • Call local zoos
    • Call local pet shops
    • Call local police
  • Place an ad in the classified section of the paper for a “lost” bird.
    • Note: Don’t give out the bird’s band number. If your bird accidentally falls into the wrong hands this could lead to removal of the band.
  • Check the classified section of the paper for “found” bird. Answer all ads. People are sometimes unaware of what they have found. A Congo African grey may be mistaken for the mythical red tailed pigeon by a helpful stranger who is unfamiliar with parrots.
  • Post flyers that state “lost bird” in the areas you last saw your bird. You may also wish to offer a reward as incentive for people to call.
  • Often times a bird is found within 24 hours of his disappearance. The trick is to find the person who found your bird before you.


Do not give up

The key to getting a bird back is perseverance. Do not accept that you will not get the bird back once you have lost sight of him or her. As a professional bird trainer that free flys many types of birds on a regular basis, I can attest that parrots are often the easiest type of bird to locate and recover. Trust me – nothing is more frustrating than searching for the silent, but observant owl who has buried himself in the bushes and has watched you walk by 100 times! Thankfully our parrots often seek out human or bird companionship if and when they have a big flight adventure.


Copyright 2005 © Good Bird Inc. First appeared in Good Bird Magazine Volume1 Issue1 Spring 2005.


To learn more about products and services to help you train your parrot visit


Barbara has been a professional in the field of animal training since 1990.
She owns and operates a company, Good Bird, Inc., ( that provides behavior and training products to the companion parrot community. These products include Good Bird Magazine, books, videos, and training/behavior workshops. Barbara has provided behavior workshops and/or animal training presentations at the Association of Avian Veterinarians conference, The American Federation of Aviculture conference, The International Parrot Conference at Loro Parque, Parrot Festival, The International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators conference, American Association of Zoo Keepers conference, Association of Zoos and Aquariums conference, The Parrot Society of Australia conference and many more. She is a  past president of the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators ( and served  on the Board of Directors from 1997-2009. Her expertise has been utilized by the
US Dept. of Agriculture, Fish and Wildlife Service and numerous international professional organizations.

She is the author of “Good Bird! A Guide to Solving Behavior Problems in Companion Parrots” by Avian Publications and also “The Parrot Problem Solver. Finding Solutions to Aggressive Behavior” by TFH Publications. She is also the producer of the Good Bird Parrot Behavior and Training DVD series.

Barbara’s experience also includes consulting on animal training in zoos and other animal related facilities. She has been a part of the development and production of more than 15 different free flight education programs. Barbara continues to provide consulting services to zoos, nature centers and other animal facilities through her other company Animal Training and Consulting Services. In her career she has trained animals, trained staff, and/or presented shows at facilities around the world.





Categories: Pet Parrots Tags: ,

Cover Bird Mitri! (Plus, a list of parrot magazines)

May 23, 2009 1 comment

Hooray! My Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoo Mitri got his picture on the cover of the June, 2009 issue of Parrots magazine!


The top of the magazine cover got a bit cut off because the magazine is a touch bigger than the area my scanner can scan.

“Parrots” magazine is published in the UK and their website is:

This is the magazine I write the most for.  It tends to have a nice variety of articles in each monthly issue on companion parrots, breeding, rescue, conservation and wild parrots.

For people who like to subscribe to magazines, here’s a list of all the parrot magazines I know of:

Bird Talk – Published in the USA.  Monthly.  It’s mainly oriented to pet parrot owners, but also has stuff on other pet birds like finches and pigeons.

Good Bird – A quarterly magazine on parrot care,  especially training parrots with positive reinforcement.

Australian Bird Keeper – Published in Australia. Covers all types of birds kept in Australia by aviculturalists. I haven’t subscribed yet, but intend to.

PsittaScene – This is the World Parrot Trust’s quarterly newsletter, which is sent out to members of the trust.

Watchbird – The journal of the American Federation of Aviculture. It’s oriented to bird breeders, and has information on parrots and other birds.

There are also some e-magazines (magazines published online) about parrots. Actually, two of the magazines above (“Good Bird” and “Australian Bird Keeper”) can be sent as e-magazines. The electronic copies are cheaper than the hard copies.

Parrots International Magazine – Primarily about conservation and wild parrots, but also has information on caring for captive parrots.

If any readers know of any that I may have missed, please let me know in the comments below or at jzgurski (at) ualberta (dot) ca.

BBC: Some birds have a remarkable talent for dancing, two studies published in Current Biology suggest.

April 30, 2009 2 comments

(Go to the site to see videos of the birds. The videos don’t work for me in Firefox)

BBC NEWS | Science & Environment | Birds show off their dance moves

By Rebecca Morelle
Science reporter, BBC News

Some birds have a remarkable talent for dancing, two studies published in Current Biology suggest.

Footage revealed that some parrots have a near-perfect sense of rhythm; swaying their bodies, bobbing their heads and tapping their feet in time to a beat.

Previously, it was thought that only humans had the ability to groove.

The researchers believe the findings could help shed light on how our relationship with music and the capacity to dance came about.

One bird, Snowball, a sulphur-crested cockatoo ( Cacatua galerita eleanora ), came to the researchers’ attention after YouTube footage suggested he might have a certain prowess for dance – especially when listening to Everybody by the Backstreet Boys.

This is a capacity that everyone thought was uniquely human, but we’ve found evidence that some animals can keep a beat
Adena Schachner, Harvard University

Dr Aniruddh Patel, from The Neurosciences Institute in San Diego, said: “We found out that the previous owner usually listened to easy listening music, but he did have this one album, and he noticed Snowball bobbing his head to the Backstreet Boys.”

To test Snowball’s skill, the scientists filmed him as they played his favourite song at various tempos.

Dr Patel told the BBC: “We analysed these videos frame by frame, and we found he did synchronise – he did slow down and speed up in time with the music.

“It was really surprising that he had this flexibility.”

Another group, led by Adena Schachner, from Harvard University, also looked at Snowball, as well as another bird, Alex, an African grey parrot ( Psittacus erithacus ).

Dr Schachner said: “We brought some novel music that we knew Alex had never heard before – so there was no way he had been trained to dance to this music.

“We set up the camera and hit play, and we were shocked to see that Alex started dancing to the beat. He started to bob his head up and down.”

While Alex’s dance routines were not as elaborate as Snowball’s, analysis of the footage revealed that he was also able to match his movements with the music he was hearing.

Dr Schachner said: “This is a capacity that everyone thought was uniquely human, but we’ve found evidence that some animals can keep a beat.”

Song and dance

The scientists believe that the parrots’ apparent capacity for dance may be linked to another talent that they share with humans – the ability for vocal learning and vocal imitation.

They believe the part of the brain that evolved to allow us and a handful of other species, including dolphins, songbirds, elephants and some cetaceans, to learn and mimic different sounds may also be responsible for the ability to move in time to music.

To test whether this might be the case, the researchers turned to a vast resource of animal footage – YouTube.

From more than 1,000 videos of different dancing animals, the team found only 33 films that showed animals moving in time to a musical beat.

Dr Patel said: “These 15 species were all vocal learners – 14 parrots and one Asian elephant.”

After these initial studies, both teams now want to look more closely at different species’ relationship with music.

Dr Patel told BBC News: “No other primates, besides humans, have vocal learning, so there is a strong prediction that no other primates could learn to synchronise to music, even with extensive training.

“However, there are other mammals that have a response to vocal learning – dolphins are a notable category, and I’d love to collaborate with dolphin researchers to find out if dolphins can move to a musical beat.”

The scientists believe further research will also provide an insight into how our relationship with music evolved.

Dr Patel said: “Music is a true human universal – it is something we find in every single human culture.

“One of the questions we are asking is whether this is wired into our brains because of evolution, or is it because it builds on other brain systems.

“And this evidence builds on the fact that it is probably linked to other existing brains systems rather than being an adaptation in its own right.”

He adds: “You see here a fundamental response to music seen in species that normally don’t have a relationship to music in the world.

“They are clearly using a brain system that has a different day job, so to speak.”


Interesting. I have a cockatoo, and he will bop along to clapping or music but he usually needs encouragement from a person, who is also bopping.

This is him:

For folks out there who want to read the papers, they are available online here:

and here:

Parrot Podcasts

February 15, 2009 3 comments

This weekend’s topic: parrot-related podcasts. I’ve found that there are quite a few and some are very informative.  I like listening to them while I have some sort of tedious task to do, like entering data into a spreadsheet.

1) Wings N’ Things

As of this writing, there are 41 episodes of this podcast. It’s now hosted by Barbara Heidenreich and Robin Shewokis.

The main site, Pet Life Radio, has podcasts about all sorts of pets.  The same ads and jokes played again and again get a bit irritating, but generally, the podcasts are pretty good.

2) Ask the Bird Experts

For this one, you enter your E-mail address, name and a phone number and you can listen to a parrot podcast Sunday night. The podcasts are usually available for download for a few days after they are played. A different guest speaker is interviewed each week, and then he or she will answer some questions from the listeners.  The questions can be typed in on the website.

If you enter your E-mail, you will get a weekly E-mail reminding you of each Sunday’s call and who the guest speaker is.

3) Parrot Science

This site has parrot news updates and some podcasts in the middle column.

If you know of any I missed, please let me know in the comments section below!

Categories: Pet Parrots Tags: ,
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