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Parrots have musical tastes, with some preferring classical works and others pop tunes, scientists have found. But the creatures do not like dance music.They are known as great mimics, but now scientists have discovered that parrots also have varied musical tastes — and an intense dislike of dance tunes.
Researchers monitored the listening preferences of a pair of African grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus)- a popular pet species, pictured – and found that while one favoured soothing “middle of the road” music, the other opted for more upbeat, modern pop.
Both birds also enjoyed rock and folk music and “danced” along, by bobbing their heads and legs. They even “sang along”, by squawking. But neither animal appreciated electronic dance music, which left them both distressed.
Dr Franck Péron, from the University of Lincoln, said: “The birds clearly showed preferences. One preferred the rhythmic and one preferred the classical.
“There is no trend for the birds. Even if they are in the same place hearing the same things, they do not prefer the same music.”
The research initially involved three parrots, Léo, Zoé and Shango, being played a series of “rhythmic” songs by U2, UB40 and Joan Baez.
They all appeared to enjoy this and were observed dancing and singing along, with excited calls and human words.
They also listened to several cantatas by Bach which appeared to relax them, encouraging them to rest and preen themselves.
The two male parrots — Léo and Shango — then took part in a second trial in which a touch-screen monitor was left in their cage, with two large buttons, which could be pressed by the birds’ beaks and which activated a 15-second segment of two different songs: either I Don’t Feel like Dancing, by the pop group Scissor Sisters, or the more soothing La Petite Fille de la Mer by Vangelis.
The touch screen was left in their cages for a month and the birds were allowed to select the music whenever they wished. Although the pair liked to listen to both songs, clear preferences emerged — with Léo consistently choosing the Scissor Sisters and Shango opting for Vangelis.
Between them, the pair played the songs more than 1,400 times during the month.
The birds’ aversion to dance music — by acts such as the Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers — was not discovered under the test conditions. It emerged when the researchers were listening to music of their own preference within earshot of the birds.
However, the creatures did share some of the scientists’ own tastes. All three birds were extremely fond of Twisted Nerve, by Bernard Herrmann, a whistled tune used in the film Kill Bill – which the researchers liked to listen to themselves – while Zoé was extremely happy when the team played the Elephant Love Medley from the film Moulin Rouge, where it is performed by Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor.
Dr Peron explained: “The electronic dance music was not appropriate for them. We had the radio on in the office and when it was a very fast beat, they started to scream; not in a friendly, communicative way but in a distressed, scared way. They seem to like pop music when there is a voice.”
He said the findings, which will be published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science, would be useful to owners, who could use touch-screen technology to provide their own “jukeboxes” for their parrots.