Male Cockatoos Woo Their Ladies With Impressive Drum Solos

By: Alia Hoyt
Researchers have found that male palm cockatoos create drumsticks -- and drumming patterns -- to attract females. These birds are the only animals, besides humans, who drum for musical purposes. Auscape/UIG/Getty Images/Universal Images Group

Women love rock stars, a truth that male cockatoos clued into somewhere down the evolutionary line. A study published recently in the journal Science Advances revealed that Northern Australian male palm cockatoos (Probosciger aterrimus) use items like seedpods and sticks as drumsticks of sorts for the purpose of enticing female cockatoos to mate.

The researchers observed and videoed 18 wild male cockatoos who performed 131 drumming sequences in all. From this, they discerned that the birds' drumming efforts are far more than the random clash-boom-bang that many animals (and — let's face it – some humans) engage in. Rather, these cockatoos maintain rhythm and even develop and their own musical styles.


"We found that individual male palm cockatoos have their own consistent drumming patterns (or "signatures"), in strong analogy to human musicians and composers who show distinct individual styles in the timing of musical notes," the researchers write in the study.

The scientists also found that cockatoos engage in other components that make up the human music creation process, including making sound tools themselves; developing individual styles; performing in a consistent context (in this case, for mating purposes rather than exorbitant ticket sales) and producing regular beats and repeated components.

"These discoveries provide a rare comparative perspective on the evolution of rhythmicity and instrumental music in our own species, and show that a preference for a regular beat can have other origins before being co-opted into group-based music and dance," the researchers explain. "This behavior is remarkable because tool manufacture among nonhuman species is rare and almost always occurs in the context of solving problems related to foraging, but palm cockatoos use their tools only to make sounds."

The mating ritual isn't totally focused on the music, however. The male cockatoo may also darken his red cheek patch ("blushing"), fluff out his head crest, or engage in vocalization. Since the female only mates every two years, all stops need to be pulled out.