Drumming Cockatoos Keep the Beat Like Human Musicians

C. Zdenek
C. Zdenek

The ladies love drummers—or at least that's what these male cockatoos are hoping. The shy but clever birds make their own drumsticks and their own music, with each bird playing his own unique rhythm. A report on the birds' advanced chick-scoring technique was published in the journal Science Advances.

Music, with its rhythm and instruments and performance and style, has long been believed to be the sole province of humans. Other animals don't make music, we told ourselves. They just make noise.

Then scientists started paying attention to the palm cockatoo (Probosciger aterrimus) of Australia's Cape York Peninsula. Like other birds in the parrot family, female cockatoos select their mates after seeing what the males have to offer. In this case, that means impressive crests, rosy cheeks, and a kickin' beat.

Not any drumstick will do. Male palm cockatoos craft their instruments with care, selecting just the right twigs and seed pods and trimming them down to the right size and shape. Then, and only then, does the performance begin.

Two palm cockatoos.
"Anyway, here's Lipstick Vogue."
C. Zdenek

Researchers tracked 18 males seasonally from 2009 to 2015. The moment the scientists saw a bird beginning to craft a drumstick, they switched on the camera and audio recording equipment. Eventually, they'd amassed Behind the Music footage of 131 different drum sessions.

Analysis of the recordings revealed that the birds' musical lives were even more nuanced and fascinating than they seemed. These birds have flair.

"Each of 18 male palm cockatoos, known for their shyness and elusiveness, was shown to have its own style or drumming signature," lead author Rob Heinsohn of Australian National University said in a statement.

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

Heinsohn said the unique rhythms could act like a signature or a call sign, identifying each bird as its beats ring through the forest.

They've got rhythm, too.

"The icing on the cake is that the taps are almost perfectly spaced over very long sequences," Heinsohn said, "just like a human drummer would do when holding a regular beat." 

6 Protective Mask Bundles You Can Get On Sale

pinkomelet/iStock via Getty Images Plus
pinkomelet/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Daily life has changed immeasurably since the onset of COVID-19, and one of the ways people have had to adjust is by wearing protective masks out in public places, including in parks and supermarkets. These are an essential part of fighting the spread of the virus, and there are plenty of options for you depending on what you need, whether your situation calls for disposable masks to run quick errands or the more long-lasting KN95 model if you're going to work. Check out some options you can pick up on sale right now.

1. Cotton Face Masks; $20 for 4

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This four-pack of washable cotton face masks comes in tie-dye, kids patterns, and even a series of mustache patterns, so you can do your part to mask germs without also covering your personality.

Buy it: $20 for four (50 percent off)

2. CE- and FDA-Approved KN95 Mask; $50 for 10

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You’ve likely heard about the N95 face mask and its important role in keeping frontline workers safe. Now, you can get a similar model for yourself. The KN95 has a dual particle layer, which can protect you from 99 percent of particles in the air and those around you from 70 percent of the particles you exhale. Nose clips and ear straps provide security and comfort, giving you some much-needed peace of mind.

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3. Three-Ply Masks; $13 for 10

Woman wearing a three-ply protective mask.
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These three-ply, non-medical, non-woven face masks provide a moisture-proof layer against your face with strong filtering to keep you and everyone around you safe. The middle layer filters non-oily particles in the air and the outer layer works to block visible objects, like droplets.

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4. Disposable masks; $44 for 50

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If the thought of reusing the same mask from one outing to the next makes you feel uneasy, there’s a disposable option that doesn’t compromise quality; in fact, it uses the same three-layered and non-woven protection as other masks to keep you safe from airborne particles. Each mask in this pack of 50 can be worn safely for up to 10 hours. Once you're done, safely dispose of it and start your next outing with a new one.

Buy it: $44 for 50 (41 percent off)

5. Polyester Masks; $22 for 5

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These masks are a blend of 95 percent polyester and 5 percent spandex, and they work to block particles from spreading in the air. And because they're easily compressed, they can travel with you in your bag or pocket, whether you're going to work or out to the store.

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6. Mask Protector Cases; $15 for 3

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You're going to need to have a stash of masks on hand for the foreseeable future, so it's a good idea to protect the ones you’ve got. This face mask protector case is waterproof and dust-proof to preserve your mask as long as possible.

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How to Watch the Great Smoky Mountains' Synchronous Fireflies From Home

QEYES/iStock via Getty Images
QEYES/iStock via Getty Images

Each June, thousands of synchronous fireflies put on a stunning light show in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. People won't be able to view the spectacle in person this year due to the COVID-19 crisis, but for the fireflies, it will be business as usual. As CarolinaCoastOnline reports, the nonprofit Discover Life in America found a safe way to share the event with as many people as possible by streaming it online.

The fireflies of Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains are the only fireflies in the Western Hemisphere that flash in sync. For two weeks in June, the males above ground blink for the females on the forest floor below, creating a rhythmic, hypnotic display.

In a typical year, thousands of people would gather to witness the phenomenon, but in April 2020, Great Smoky Mountains National Park canceled the event after determining that social distancing would be impossible. The synchronous fireflies are so popular that the park has to distribute tickets for shuttle access by lottery. Whether you had plans to see the show this year or you're hearing about it for the first time, it's now easy to view it from home.

Discover Life in America, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting biological diversity, streamed its virtual firefly-watching event to YouTube on Monday, June 1. After an introduction explaining the science behind the insect's behavior, the feed cuts to footage of the Great Smoky Mountains at night. The fireflies can be seen flashing over a stream, a hiking trail, and an open field in the park. There's even a clip that shows the insects performing the mating ritual as a thunderstorm brews in the background. You can watch the full video below.

If you're looking to relax with more wildlife content, check out these animal webcams you can watch right now.

[h/t CarolinaCoastOnline]