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Ducklings are able to walk almost immediately after hatching from the egg, and can even swim after a few days. They recognise their mother because of a behaviour type called imprinting.

Ducklings following a mallard

Ducklings will follow the first moving object they meet after hatching. They become socially attached to this object and treat it as their mother.

Imprinting lets young animals recognise their mother from a young age. They can follow her for food and protection.

Imprinting is useful if the first moving object they see really is their mother. But ducklings will imprint on people, balls and even cardboard boxes if these happen to be the first things they see.

Konrad Lorenz

Geese, chicks, and other baby birds that can walk around shortly after hatching, also show imprinting behaviour. Konrad Lorenz (1903 to 1989) was an Austrian scientist who studied animal behaviour.

He discovered that if he reared geese from when they hatched, they became imprinted on him. They followed him around and preferred to be near him even when they had grown into adult geese. Lorenz won the 1973 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine because of his experiments on animal behaviour.


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