Can parrots play music?


This is a fascinating question to which Mathilde Le Covec answers during her thesis!

During one of these studies, we offered different objects to the birds. Some of these objects (xylophones, bells, maracas and others) produced sounds. Others did not produce it. We then observed how the birds interacted with these sound carriers. In this context, we noted all the behaviors they expressed.

Are birds capable of having fun?

First, these observations have shown us that birds are capable of having fun. The behaviors expressed in fact checked all the criteria of the game.

(1) play is intrinsically rewarded : birds did not need to be rewarded for interacting with the items provided

(2) the game has no apparent goal, except that of having fun : the behaviors expressed did not seem to have any purpose other than that of playing

(3) the game is produced repeatedly : birds have expressed these behaviors repeatedly, up to 198 times for one of them

(4) the game is voluntary : the birds have voluntarily and spontaneously interacted with the objects, without our intervention

(5) the game is manifested in a context of relaxation : which was the case for our birds

Do birds play music?

Interesting fact: our birds were much more interested in sound objects than non-sound objects. But can we say that they play music? While it is of course difficult to answer this question, we have nevertheless noted that the behaviors expressed fulfill several characteristics of music. And especially :

(1) the music is intentional : the birds having manipulated the sound objects did so repeatedly and without reward, which shows an intentionality in their actions

(2) music gives pleasure to the one who plays it : the birds exhibited repeated sets of sound objects, which suggests that handling noisy objects was pleasing to their ears

(3) music is creative : one of our birds, Seth, has repeatedly placed or dropped a bell on the xylophone. This behavior was new, unusual and effective, since it made it possible to produce sound. So Seth got creative.

What is musicality to the ears of a bird?

It would be particularly interesting, I think, to study the reaction of birds to these sound productions from their species. Do they influence their behavior and their emotions? Are they particularly attentive to it? Do they prefer them to human music? The answer to these questions could make it possible to open up our conception of music more to animality.

Offering sound objects with which captive individuals can play therefore seems to be an interesting source of enrichment and well-being for certain species of birds. Don’t hesitate to overdo it with yours!

References :

Mathilde Le Covec, December 2020, Can parrots play music, consulted on 02/27/21, available online:

– © Mathilde Le Covec –

– psychologist and doctor in ethology (behavioral science), specialized in avian behavior –


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