This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 08 table of contents.

Imprinting

Konrad Lorenz lived on a farm with his beloved greylag geese. He noticed that young goslings followed the first thing they saw after hatching. Lorenz called this phenomenon imprinting. In normal circumstances, this "works" because the first thing a baby bird sees is the mother goose. However, if the gosling sees a human first, they follow the human as if it were the mother. In a famous picture on the cover of Life magazine, Konrad was shown walking on his farm with a string of goslings following him.

What is imprinting? With what animals is imprinting common?

The Saturday Evening Post responded with a picture by the artist Norman Rockwell, showing ducklings following a football. It is true that ducklings will imprint on the first thing that moves, when they hatch, whether it is animate or inanimate. Imprinting is found mostly in ground dwelling birds and prey species such as goats and lambs. It keeps the young in close proximity to a protective parent.

In the following case (from the all-creatures.org public domain humor archive) baby ducklings imprinted on a dog.


Ground-dwelling birds sometimes imprint on the first moving object they see.


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