Palm cockatoos are natural born rockers. They've got the red face paint, the mohawk-like crests, and apparently they're also the best drummers in the animal kingdom (besides humans, anyway).
New research has found that these ancient birds are the only species other than us known to make a musical tool or instrument, perform with that instrument and repeat musical patterns throughout the performance, reports New Scientist.
And the reason for these bombastic performances? So the males can pick up chicks. Go figure.
Scientists have actually known about this unique behavior since 1984, but this is the first time it has been described and observed in detail. Robert Heinsohn and colleagues at the Australian National University in Canberra have been filming and analyzing palm cockatoo "concerts" in the jungles of Australia’s Kutini-Payamu National Park for seven years.
The birds aren't just grabbing twigs and pounding them against things. They actually design their own drumsticks by snapping off small branches and trim them down to preference. Each bird also composes its own drumming style. They use and fashion tools; they make original music.
The one thing that all of the performances seemed to have in common was that the birds are lefties; they all held their drumsticks in their left feet. The style of the performances varied significantly, however. Birds danced and sang uniquely, making complex calls, flapping their wings and erecting their feathery crests. (That's impressive, it's not easy to drum, dance and sing all at the same time.)
“Palm cockatoos are unique in their ability to make a tool to amplify sound and then in using it to generate a percussive rhythm,” said Heinsohn.
Females watch and evaluate the males' drumming skills quite attentively, but so far researchers don't know exactly what types of beats tend to gather the most groupies. More research will be needed to see if there is a rhyme to their reason.
It's also unclear at this time whether there are distinct drumming cultures among palm cockatoo populations; that's the next thing for researchers to look at.
The study was published in the journal Science Advances.