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THE MIRACLE OF IMPRINTING

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There is one unique ability limited to birds alone that makes geese, the first, and ducks, the second, most natural animal companions to humans. That ability, which is one of the strongest forces in nature, is the imprint. No one understands exactly what happens inside a bird’s brain when imprinting occurs, but the results are unmistakable. The imprint is strongest in geese and almost as strong in ducks.

Basically, a duckling or gosling knows that it is the same species as whatever living creature larger than itself it sees upon hatching or shortly thereafter. I said, KNOWS. It doesn’t think it is, it doesn’t use the creature for a replacement until it finds its own species, it doesn’t pretend to be that species; it is that species in its mind. The imprint is so strong in birds that when one is raising a wild baby bird to be returned to wild, it must be fed with hand puppets of its own species in order to prevent it from imprinting on a human instead. So, if you want a bird to live with its own species, you avoid having it imprint on a human, but if you want a bird to live with humans, you make sure it does imprint on a HUMAN. It imprints on the species right away, but doesn’t recognize an individual face for about a week even though it may recognize a voice.

I’m sure a lot of you hollered when you read that geese and ducks are the most natural companions of man. What about dogs and cats????? No matter whether you raise a dog or cat from the instant it is born, it will always know it is a dog or a cat. We have to train, control and confine them to keep them from going off with their own or following their natural instincts to roam and hunt. They definitely form bonds with us, but they have strong ties to their own species. An imprinted duck or goose doesn’t. UNLESS it is raised with other ducklings and goslings, because not only do ducks and geese imprint on a parent(s), they imprint on SIBLINGS!

This is where imprinting becomes complicated and differences between ducks and geese become apparent. I’ll try to simplify it.

          I.                              2.

DUCKLING sees DUCK.                           DUCKLING sees HUMAN

DUCKLING is a DUCK.                             DUCKLING is a HUMAN

MOM is a DUCK.                                   MOM is a HUMAN

DUCKLING sees DUCKLINGS.                     DUCKLING sees DUCKLINGS

DUCKLING is also a DUCKLING SIBLING                   DUCKLING is also a DUCKLING SIBLING

All DUCKLINGS love MOM.                       All DUCKLINGS love MOM

DUCKLINGS grows to be DUCKS.                   DUCKLINGS grow to be DUCKS

DUCKS don’t need MOM.                         DUCKS don't need MOM

DUCKS like other DUCKS.                   DUCKS like other DUCKS

DUCKS mate with DUCKS.                       DUCKS mates with DUCKS

MOM is now just another DUCK.                DUCK may love MOM, may NOT

        3.

              DUCKLING sees HUMAN.

             DUCKLING is HUMAN.

             MOM is HUMAN.

            DUCKLING doesn’t see other DUCKLINGS.

          DUCKLING is only HUMAN.

             DUCKLING loves and needs MOM.

            DUCKLING grows to be DUCK

              DUCK likes HUMANS.

              DUCK doesn’t mate with DUCKS.

             DUCK loves MOM BEST.

            1.                            2.

GOSLING sees GOOSE                          GOSLING sees a HUMAN

GOSLING sees GANDER                         GOSLING sees another HUMAN

GOSLING is a GOOSE                           GOSLING is a HUMAN

MOM & DAD are GEESE                         MOM & DAD are HUMAN

GOSLING sees GOSLINGS                     GOSLING sees GOSLINGS

GOSLING is also a GOSLING SIBLING.      GOSLING is a GOSLING SIBLING

All GOSLINGS love MOM & DAD             All GOSLINGS love MOM & DAD

GOSLINGS grow to be GEESE                GOSLINGS grow to be GEESE

GEESE still love MOM & DAD                GEESE still love MOM & DAD

GEESE don’t mate with MOM & DAD        GEESE don’t mate with MOM & DAD

GEESE don’t mate with SIBLINGS.*        GEESE don’t mate with SIBLINGS

GEESE love SIBLINGS                                   GEESE love SIBLINGS BEST

GEESE mate with other GEESE             GEESE mate with other GEESE

       GEESE love MOM & DAD                           GEESE love MOM & DAD, TOO

 

3.

GOSLING sees a HUMAN.

GOSLING is a HUMAN.

GOSLING sees another HUMAN.

MOM & DAD are HUMAN.

GOSLING sees HUMAN CHILDREN

GOSLING is a HUMAN SIBLING.

GOSLING loves and needs MOM & DAD

GOSLING grows to be GOOSE

GOOSE still loves MOM & DAD

GOOSE doesn’t mate with MOM & DAD*

GOOSE doesn’t mate with SIBLINGS.*

GOOSE loves SIBLING

GOOSE can fall in love with a HUMAN

GOOSE loves MOM & DAD BEST

Personalities, circumstances, raising, etc. can, of course, have an effect on the above outcomes, but generally speaking that's how it works.  An injured bird that is rescued, for instance, may be imprinted on its own species, but may bond very closely with its rescuer.  A gosling that has been raised in the house and is firmly imprinted on its human Mom & Dad, may become reserved or even hostile if it is expected to live outside on its own or with other geese after it is physically grown.  Geese don't mature until they are 3 - 4 years old, so they expect to stay with their parents for at least a year or two and have them close by after that.  You'll find a great deal more on this subject in my book.

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"They looked at us when they were born, and thought that they did see,
 the image of themselves that morn,
the image of you and me."
 

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