SCHERERVILLE | With more than 10,000 Facebook fans, an animated cartoon in the works and a spiritual adviser, Snowball the dancing cockatoo has come a long way since bobbing his head to the beat of a Backstreet Boys song nearly four years ago.
The white bird with a yellow crest was relinquished in 2007 to Bird Lovers Only, a Schererville bird sanctuary run by Irena and Chuck Schulz. Among Snowball's belongings was a CD programmed with Backstreet Boys music. His family said to play it and watch the bird's reaction.
Snowball's reaction, to bob his head and lift his feet to the rhythm of the music, made him an international sensation. Since video of his dancing went viral, he has starred in two commercials, made numerous television appearances, is being studied by scientists, is included in a Canadian textbook and even has a display dedicated to him in the Science Museum in London, Irena Schulz said.
"I feel like, should I be bowing every time I pass by this bird or what?" she said.
Snowball's fame has drawn positive attention to the bird rescue.
"We would not be open right now if it weren't for him," she said. "We can't get donations unless it's (because of) him."
The 14-year-old bird's image is printed on T-shirts, bumper stickers, buttons and more.
Maybe his spiritual adviser can keep him grounded.
"I've always wanted to be a spiritual adviser to a star," Mark Wilkins said. "That bird dances much better than I do, and my wife will attest to that."
Wilkins, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Crown Point, said the title of spiritual adviser is in jest, but he believes God brought Snowball to the bird sanctuary to help the Schulz family carry on their worthwhile rescue project.
"These great people are doing this great work," Wilkins said.
Schulz continues to collaborate with researchers on the science behind Snowball's dancing.
"We have a two-tempo experiment going," she said. "I have two more trials to do."
Snowball's musical taste expands beyond boy bands to include Lady Gaga, Queen, Pink and even Spanish music. Aside from television appearances, Snowball is a popular guest at schools and nursing homes.
"He's just growing," she said. "He's in textbooks, he's in scientific journals. He's just branching out."