In a First, Bird Uses Tools to Make Sweet Music

The palm cockatoo is the only species aside from humans that can drum a rhythmic beat with its own homemade objects, a new study says.


Male palm cockatoos just might be the rock stars of the animal kingdom—but unsurprisingly, they mainly just do it for the chicks.

The Australian bird is the only animal other than humans known to use a custom-made tool to tap out a percussive beat, a new study says. While other animals, such as chimpanzees, enjoy drumming on sticks and logs, they don’t make their own musical implements to do it. (Read more about birds who use tools to get their dinner.)

Robert Heinsohn, a conservation biologist at Australia National University, first witnessed the behavior in male birds in northern Australia in 1997.

“The cockatoo was clutching what looked like a stick and banging it on the trunk, and every so often he would pause, erect his amazing crest, and let out either a piping whistle or a harsh screech,” says Heinsohn, who received funding for his research from the National Geographic Society.

Intrigued, Heinsohn spent the next two decades videotaping the shy animals to find out if their drumming is truly music—defined as regular beat production, repeated components, and of...

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