"It's an impulse that arises when certain cognitive and neural capacities come together in an animal's brain".
The idea that we humans have lots of unique abilities that animals lack has taken a battering in recent years - and now coming up with complex dance moves can be removed from the rapidly shrinking list.
The researchers combed through footage of Snowball grooving to songs like Another One Bites the Dust by Queen and Girls Just Wanna Have Fun by Cyndi Lauper.
She found Snowball had a repertoire of 14 "dance movements" and two composite movements, researchers said. These included "head-banging", a "body roll" and what researchers dubbed "Vogue", where the cockatoo moves his head from one side of his lifted foot to the other.
"We were surprised by the sheer diversity of Snowball's movements to music, all of which emerged without any training, through social interaction with humans", said psychologist and study co-author Aniruddh Patel of Tufts University.
Ever the entertainer, Snowball carried out 14 unique dances when prompted by music, based on findings published on Monday in Current Biology. This relates to the fact that Snowball and humans seem to dance for social reasons, Patel said.
This gave the researchers the chance to study another potential similarity between Snowball's movements and human dancing: diversity in the movements and body parts used when responding to music. He contacted Irena Schulz, who owned the bird shelter where Snowball lived, and with her soon launched a study of Snowball's dancing prowess.
"What's different about Snowball is that he is dancing to sounds he's not making", says Patel.
The first study showed that Snowball indeed anticipated the beat, bobbing his head and stomping his feet in time to the music.
The team's earlier study confirmed that Snowball could move to the beat.
"He seemed to be experimenting with new moves, and so we made a decision to try and study that properly because that was the second interesting parallel to humans". "They may not spend enough time bonding with dancing humans to develop dancing themselves", he said.
Snowball isn't the first parrot to move to the music, but there has been uncertainty about how such moves are acquired. They played the songs three times. Parrots and humans are vocal learners that can imitate and learn complex, sequences of movements.
Researchers weren't in a position to rule out then whether or not Snowball had copied the actions of his human owners or if he may adjust his head-bops to completely different tempos. "His movements to music are amazingly diverse", Patel said. And while humans tend to dance continuously, the cockatoo boogied in bursts of around 3.69 seconds on average.
Rather than wandering onto the dancefloor at a wedding after a few shots of Dutch courage, like your average dancer (bonus points if Mandoza's "Nkalakatha" is playing), Snowball has become known around the world for his moves.
She added that, cognitively, moving from imitation to creativity wasn't that hard.