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Imprinting in Goslings and Ducklings

I’ve mentioned on this blog a few times that a gosling or duckling raised by hand will imprint on the human who raises it. This magical bond is unique to certain types of birds in the animal kingdom, and makes them special companions for those that raise them.

The first person that a baby goose or duck sees feeding it and caring for it, it will assume is its mother. It is jumping to several conclusions here, including the idea that it is also a human. Growing up, geese will recognize their bonded person and be able to differentiate that person from strangers. It is said that geese can identify someone who raised them even after they have been apart for several years.

The bond of imprinting is so strong that some wild birds being raised in captivity have to be fed and cared for in costumes, so that they will be able to return to the wild. Occasionally, especially if you only have one goose, the bond can even be dangerous in captivity. Geese are large and protective creatures and can cause injury when trying to be friendly. However, with a larger flock, geese will still recognize their own kind and understand that mom is a human, but their siblings are geese.

The behavior of imprinting helps a chick survive in the wild by making it responsive to its parents, but also able to distinguish other adults that might hurt it. This instinct in relation to humans was first documented by Konrad Lorenz in the early 1900s, who found that certain birds, when exposed to a mother figure in the first two weeks of life, would “stamp on” to that parent. Lorenz’s research also suggests that ducklings and goslings will bond with other feathered parents, such as chickens, or even to an inanimate object such as a rubber ball.

What does imprinting mean for the casual farmer or backyard enthusiast? It makes these types of fowl some of the most satisfying to own, creating a bond as strong as a dog or other household pet. A bonded goose will follow its owner around, lavish them with attention and squawk a greeting every time you arrive home. While this behavior can also make them attentive to the point of being nuisances, only a few feet away at any time, it is also overwhelmingly charming. If you are raising geese, doing so by hand will give you a certain connection with your birds.


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