Sunday, July 2, 2017

When Birds Beat the Drums Like Ringo Starr #Science

It's been something of a fashion to denigrate Ringo Starr's drumming but there's only one salient point to that matter:  The Beatles thought he did a fine job of it.

However, so do Palm Cockatoos albeit without any notable presence on the Billboard charts.

Palm cockatoos beat the drum like Ringo Starr

Credit: C. Zdenek

Some may recognize that photograph as one which appeared on Ithaka several days ago so now we find the original source of it and you see also where the attribution to Ringo originated.

Professor Rob Heinsohn said while songbirds and whales can belt out a musical tune, few species recognise a beat.

But the shy and elusive palm cockatoo, iconic to Cape York Peninsula in far North Queensland, plays the drums and crafts the sticks.

"The large smoky-grey parrots fashion thick sticks from branches, grip them with their feet and bang them on trunks and tree hollows, all the while displaying to females," said Professor Heinsohn, from the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society.

"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."

Science Daily:  Palm cockatoos beat drum like Ringo Starr

If you have ever sat next to someone who tries to knock out a beat with fingers or hands on a coffee table but just can't quite get it right then your admiration for the skills of the Palm Cockatoo may leap.

There was a recent article here on Ithaka about the association of music in the context of why should it ever happen.  (Ithaka:  The Story of Music is the Story of Humans #Science #Music)

In the argot of The Beatles, birds were girls, luv.  We can see from the Palm Cockatoo that playing his drum means he finds more birds so there we have a prime reason.

Ed:  are you seriously going to Freud this?

It's too easy to say music is all about sex but even a blind man couldn't ignore how much sex is entangled with it.   However, if you're of a mind to have a whole lot of sex in your life, the Rockhouse does not observe music is necessarily the best way to do it.

Note:  stand back for today's GPC.

The Rockhouse has not noted any particular engagement with music by the Kennedy family.

Ed:  GPC?

Gratuitous Political Cheapshot

Professor Heinsohn said the palm cockatoo's ability to drum has been known for a long time but this is the first research to secure the footage to analyse it.

This was slowly acquired over the seven year study by patiently stalking the birds through the rainforest with a video camera.

"Each of 18 male palm cockatoos, known for their shyness and elusiveness, was shown to have its own style or drumming signature," said Professor Heinsohn.

"Some males were consistently fast, some were slow, while others loved a little flourish at the beginning.

"Such individual styles might allow other birds to recognise who it is drumming from a long way away."

- SD

There's expression, even individual expression, over long distances.

Ed:  sure but it's expression to get birds.  This is still The Beatles.

Read on.

The palm cockatoo drumming is part of the species courtship ritual that involves a lot of calls and movements to attract a mate.

The research is part of a broader study of the palm cockatoo's conservation needs on Cape York Peninsula where they suffer low breeding success and loss of habitat due to mining activity.

- SD

It's true since at least part of the expression is to get more birds but there's no way to know whether all of it was without further analyzing the drumming patterns to validate whatever behavior it may elicit.

The interested student is invited to pursue the source article but do be advised the pursuit is likely to be a long once since this goes to the fundamentals of behavior and it goes across species.  If you're looking for a fast answer to Why Music then this might not be your best idea.  However, one with sufficient patience and insight may well discover something which goes to the center of all of us.

The tempo of the beating of your mother's heart during gestation is the ultimate peace beat, right?  There's little else which will convince humans to do absolutely nothing for nine months but almost all of us did that to mother's heartbeat.

The Rockhouse firmly believes music is about much more than finding birds but, even after playing for so many years, I still really don't have a good answer for Why Music?

Ed:  you just like doing it?

Yep, that's the best answer I ever found.

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