Birds just wanna have fun! Snowball the cockatoo, who first gained internet fame in 2007 dancing to the Backstreet Boys’ Everybody (Backstreet’s Back), has been shaking a tail feather for science. The team of researchers, led by psychologist Dr R. Joanne Jao Keehn, were looking to understand why he could move to the beat when other primates such as gorillas and chimpanzees, humans’ closest relatives, can’t.

Snowball displayed an impressive range of 14 different dance moves, plus two composite moves. While dancing to 80s classics Another One Bites the Dust and Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, the sulphur-crested cockatoo bounced, lifted his foot, posed with his crest raised, did some excellent headbanging and even showed off a move the researchers call voguing.

“What's most interesting to us is the sheer diversity of his movements to music,” said Prof Aniruddh Patel.

The team say that Snowball’s ability to come up with new moves, as well as his ability to improvise a different dance each time he hears a song, shows flexibility and creativity.

Patel’s research in 2009 gave Snowball the honour of being named the first non-human animal to show conclusively that he can dance to a beat.

So why can humans and cockatoos boogie when primates can’t even tap their feet to the beat? It comes down to the fact that we share a number of features with the birds, all of which add up to a fondness for moving to the music, the team say.

For us, dancing is a social activity, and we’re more likely to dance in a group than on our own. Next, the researchers want to find out if Snowball is the same.

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Sara RigbyOnline staff writer, BBC Science Focus

Sara is the online staff writer at BBC Science Focus. She has an MPhys in mathematical physics and loves all things space, dinosaurs and dogs.