Our response to music is seen in many different ways and on many different levels. Music can induce happiness, sadness, and a multitude of other emotions. It’s why we listen to it. But do animals experience the same type of emotions that we do? The internet is awash with YouTube videos of parrots and other birds bopping along to a song. Of course, a song lyric’s meaning is presumably lost on a parrot, but certainly the music, with its varied sets of beats, harmonies, vocal patterns and other elements, can invoke a behavior in a bird that is often relatable. Plus, it’s easy to recognize that birds themselves employ their own birdsong with which to communicate and to infatuate others of their kind.
Since Darwin, birdsong has been pored over to determine if it is a musically rewarding trait. Overtime, the many neural responses to music has been studied to determine just what the intents actually are, or if birds receive a pleasurable “reward” moment. Without getting into the incredibly complicated testing phases created for a 2012 Emory University study, scientists determined that female birds, when hearing birdsong, responded to the music in much the same way as people do. In short, the same neural pathways that the human brain employs are the same pathways in use with female birds. For male birds, they revealed a different acceptance, which was not as easily determined to be positive, negative, or indifferent. In fact, some songs appeared to make male birds angry.
Birds Dig Music
As to human created music to the ears of a bird, many bird owners are convinced that there is an appreciation to what is being heard and that it is at times displayed in a dance. Common parrot dances consist of pumping and bobbing motions; back and forth movement between spaces, and other various forms of what could be considered a physical response to the music being heard. We can acknowledge that some birds learn to move during a “favored” song because the bird was taught to do so. Many owners simply start a song, begin dancing, which triggers a mimicking response in the bird. Eventually, the same song will “jump start” the bird to “dance” just as the bird was taught to.
Ultimately, there are many stories of birds responding to a particular style of music, even to the point of rejecting a song by behavior recognizable to the owner as a dislike response. Other studies have supported that parrots can be choosy as to the type of music they prefer. Some seem to prefer calm and complex classical music, some calm Pop, while others appreciate louder, more raucous tunes. But it was determined that most, if not all, of the birds disliked the popular electronic dance music. Given human and creature individuality, it’s not surprising that birds exhibited a unique preference to what they were willing to hear.
Another unique but small study gave several parrots an ability to self-select songs. A touch screen was installed in cages that gave the birds easy access to several types of music, which revealed unique preferences. In the course of a month’s time, both parrots selected their personal favorites no less than 1,400 times between them. This study encourages the use of selectable jukeboxes for parrots within their cages to afford them yet another method of self-entertainment.
Much is still unknown about how birds appreciate music. But one thing is sure among owners: their birds seem to like music of some kind – just not harsh ambient electronica.