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Drumming cockatoos have signature beats
Palm cockatoo
Palm cockatoos are known for their shyness and elusiveness.

Researchers analyse courting behaviour for the first time

The animal kingdom isn’t short of musical animals; whales and birds can often be heard belting out a song. But new research of the palm cockatoo’s ability to drum has found that not only can it thrash out a tune - but it can also keep a beat.

It has long been known that palm cockatoos bang sticks on tree trunks to impress the opposite sex. But in a new study, researchers at Australian National University (ANU) secured video footage of this behaviour and were able to analyse it for the first time.

The researchers gained the footage slowly over seven years by stalking the birds though the rainforest. They observed the parrots fashion sticks from branches, grip them with their feet and bang them on trunks and tree hollows.

“The icing on the cake is that the taps are almost perfectly spaced over very long sequences, just like a human drummer would do when holding a regular beat,” said Professor Rob Heinsohn, from the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Study.

The footage also revealed that each of the 18 male palm cockatoos, known to be shy and elusive, had their own style or signature drum beat.

"Some males were consistently fast, some were slow, while others loved a little flourish at the beginning,” Professor Heinsohn continued. “Such individual styles might allow other birds to recognise who it is drumming from a long way away."

Iconic to Cape York Peninsular in North Queensland, Palm cockatoos are known for their shyness and elusiveness. The drumming is part of the series courtship ritual that involves a lot of calls and movements to attract a mate.

The research, published in Science Advances, is part of a wider study on the conservation needs of palm cockatoos on Cape York Peninsula, where they suffer from low breeding success and loss of habitat due to mining.

Image (C) Dick Daniels/ Wikimedia Commons

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