Palm cockatoos drum to their own beat

By Jessica Little 8 December 2009
Reading Time: < 1 Print this page
It’s been revealed male palm cockatoos use a drum-stick in their territorial display.

A recent research project undertaken in Cape York Peninsula, QLD, has observed unique behaviour of several male palm cockatoos, involving the use of a drumming stick during their territorial demonstrations.

While undertaking a study on the vocal individuality of the palm cockatoo, ecologist Christina Zdenek also observed the cockatoo’s unusual performance with sticks. After severing a small branch from a live tree, the cockatoos use it to drum against their hollowed tree nest to either attract potential mates or to alert neighbouring males to their claim on a territory.

“This is amazing behaviour – fashioning a tool in a non-foraging context is fairly unique among the animal kingdom,” Christina says.

“For instance, although chimpanzees and New Caledonian crows fashion tools, they do so with food as their motivation. Palm cockatoos, on the other hand, fashion drum sticks from live branches which they use for territorial displays.

“Palm cockatoos also use a seed-pod to drum with sometimes, often from a Bushman’s Clothes Peg tree,” Christina explains. “And they fashion this into a shape which seems fit for drumming.”

Christina says these drumming displays are most common between June and September, but she has also observed the behaviour during other times of the year.

Some birds – perhaps the un-paired males – seem to drum quite often, while others do not seem to drum at all, according to Christina.

“The evolutionary significance of this drumming behaviour has not yet been studied and is not currently known,” Christina says.
Observations such as Christina’s indicate that research has only begun to scratch the surface of the complexities of animal communication.