These pollies want a cracker, - but only after it gets a soak. Every day at 2 p.m. at the Goffin Lab in Vienna, a flock of white parrots known as Goffin's cockatoos eat a lunch that includes a dry, twice baked toast known as rusk or zwieback.

Last summer, researchers noticed a few of the cockatoos customizing their meals : Before eating the rusk, they dunked it in a tub of water.

For the Goffin's cockatoo, the behavior appears to be an innovation in food preparation, the researchers reported it in a study published in the journal Biology Letters.

'' To go through all this effort just to change the texture of your food is quite impressive,'' said Alice Auersperg, the head of the Goffin Lab at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna and an author of the study.

Not all the birds dunked their food. And the ones that did never dunked seeds and only occasionally wetted a banana or coconut chip. When they dunked something it was almost always rusk.

Some birds gave the rusk a quick dunk, but others soaked it for 30 seconds or more. Such a delay is notable. '' They were willing to wait for it to soak,'' said Jeroen Zewald, a doctoral student at the lab. '' And that takes a lot of impulse control.''

It's a new line of research for scientists more accustomed to devising their own challenges for the birds. '' Instead of presenting them with a problem,'' Mr. Zewald said, '' they basically had a tiny problem of their own, and they solved it.'' [Emily Anthes]


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