Mrs Jane Swadling

Imprinting is an inbuilt tendency for young animals to follow a moving object to which it forms an attachment. Its especially obvious in nidifugous birds which imprint on their parents and follow them around. Imprinting was first reported in domestic chickens by the 19th century amateur biologist Douglas Spalding. It was rediscovered later by ethnologist Oskar Heinroth and studied extensively by Konrad Lorenz.
Imprinting has been used by mankind for centuries in domesticating animals and poultry. In Rome an agriculturalist Lucius Moderatus Columella wrote that anyone wishing to establish a place to rear ducks should collect wildfowl eggs in the marches and put them under the farmyard hens. Therefore when they hatched they would take to the hens as their parents. In China rice farmers have imprinted newly hatched ducklings to a special stick, which they then use to bring the ducks out to their rice paddies to control the snail population.
However is wasn’t until the 1900s that any scientific studies were done on this phenomenon. Australian naturalist Konrad Lorenz was the first to establish the science behind this imprinting process. Lorenz found that when young birds came out of their eggs they would become attached to the first moving object that they set upon. In most cases in the wild that would have been their mother, but Lorenz replaced himself by the geese hatchlings as their object of affection to see what would happen. As they hatched they instantly took to him as they would their parent and would not leave his side and would follow him everywhere and also once they became adults they would acknowledge him instead of the other geese. It wasn’t just Lorenz that they became attached to either. They attached to a pair of gumboots, a white ball and even an electric train.
Researchers building on Lorenz’s work found that birds like ducks, geese and turkeys that hatch and then begin to walk around need to follow something almost immediately for their own...