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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

BirdNote®: Palm Cockatoo Gets The Girl

Air Date: Week of

The adult palm cockatoo can grow up to two feet in length. (Photo: © Christina Zdenek)

The Australian Palm Cockatoo’s mating ritual involves using sticks -- as drumsticks! The rhythmic beats they make are the first documented instance of an animal using a tool to make music. BirdNote’s Mary McCann has the story on these percussive birds.


CURWOOD: We stay in the Land Down Under to bring you a unique way to pick up a mate. BirdNote’s Mary McCann explains that a male Australian Palm Cockatoo uses much more than just his voice to make seductive music.

Palm Cockatoo Gets the Girl

In the music world, it’s often said that the drummer never gets the girl.
[Palm Cockatoo screech]
But is this true? Maybe not for wild Australian Palm Cockatoos.
[Palm Cockatoo screech, then drumming and Australian ambient throughout]
For the first time, ever, an animal has been documented making a tool to create music. Male Palm Cockatoos use their enormous beaks to break off a stick or seed pod from a tree. The bird then fashions it into a sort of drumstick. Clutching the stick in his left foot, he beats on a hollow tree.

The palm cockatoo is one of only a few bird species known to use tools, and possibly the only animal species to use tools specifically to make music. (Photo: © Christina Zdenek)

Most animals that use tools do so to get food. But these cockatoos seem to do it specifically to create a rhythmic beat designed to impress their potential mates.
Drumming is just part of an intricate courtship display. The male cockatoo sways his body, stretches his wings, and erects his long, slender crest feathers, all the while producing loud, high-pitched whistles. Not only that, but he "blushes" — his bare cheek patches turn bright red, contrasting brilliantly with his all-black plumage. As the display continues, he pirouettes on his branch and bobs his head.
If the female watching is impressed, she’ll join the male on his branch and imitate his movements — swaying, bobbing, and whistling alongside him as he drums.
[Palm Cockatoo whistles]
OK, so maybe this drummer does get the girl.
I’m Mary McCann

Written by GrrlScientist
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by E Grieg ML 201166. Additional bird sounds recorded by Robert Heinsohn and Christina Zdenek. 
BirdNote’s theme composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler; Managing Producer: Jason Saul; Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone
© 2019 Tune In to Nature.org   February 2019   Narrator: Mary McCann



CURWOOD: For pictures, dance on over to our website, loe.org.



Learn more on the BirdNote website

Forbes | “Cockatoos Drum With The Rhythm Of Love”

Christina Zdenek’s Palm Cockatoo Project


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