SCHERERVILLE | From the first time Irena Schulz hit "play" and watched her pet bird groove to a "Backstreet Boys" song, she knew he had natural rhythm. Now, science is backing it up.
Snowball, a medium sulfur-crested Eleonora cockatoo that belongs to Irena and Chuck Schulz at their home-based sanctuary called Bird Lovers Only Rescue in Schererville, was part of the focus of a study about whether animals can sense a beat.
Scientists studied Snowball as well as about 1,000 YouTube videos of dancing animals and determined for the first time that some animals dance to a musical beat. Animals that can dance have an ability to mimic sounds they hear.
Aniruddh Patel of the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego led a study of Snowball that was published online Thursday by Current Biology.
Snowball kept up with the beat, even when the same song was slowed down or sped up. Scientists analyzed his head bobs and found they were connected to the tempo.
Patel approached Irena Schulz with the idea for the study, and she was eager to participate. It combined her three passions: birds, research and music, she said.
Patel sent music to Schulz, each song with a different tempo. Schulz recorded Snowball dancing to the music and mailed the videos back to Patel for analysis.
"I knew at my end that, yes, he can dance at fast and slower songs and keep up to the rhythms," she said.
The next study will pair Snowball with the Queen song, "Another One Bites the Dust." Some behavioral studies will examine the role of socialization in the dancing. Scientists will observe Snowball: alone with music, Snowball with music and with Schulz in the room using verbal reinforcement and Snowball in the room with Schulz dancing along, she said.
Snowball broke into Internet fame in 2007 with his dance to a "Backstreet Boys" song, which earned him segments on several television shows, including, "The Late Show with David Letterman."
People sent Snowball CDs for him dance to.
"We bought a multidisc CD player just for him," Schulz said. "He likes a lot of different songs."
"One happened to be a disc of German polka tunes," Schulz said. "We went ahead and put it in, and we headed back in the room. And, sure enough, along with him, two other birds were dancing to German polka tunes."
Schulz will bring Snowball to the World Science Festival in June in New York City.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.