Such filial imprinting (forming of attachments and developing an own identity) occurs at a particular time (termed the sensitive period). For example in ducks and geese, this period is supposedly 24-48 hours after hatching when the 'following response' is learnt. This allows rapid learning from an experienced adult as well as allows the infant to distinguish his/her parents from others of his/her own species who could attack it. Today, Lorenz’s theory of imprinting is still in use as well as constantly expanded on by researchers. Amongst others they’ve found that the imprinting window may not be as narrow as once thought….
Now comes the part I find interesting!
I’ve raised many birds in my life – some from hatching, others older. I had imprinting with finches, for example. Einstein for one, would fly every morning and come back at sunset only, to fall asleep on my shoulder. (Fortunately, she sexually imprinted on her own species!)
Raising ducks are new to me: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday; simply arrived at my doorstep one day out of the blue. According to pictures I’ve seen on the web, I believe they were about 3-5 days old. Until we could build them a safe holding place, they had to live in the bath tub during the day, and sleep in my bedroom at night.
Once their “home” was built, one by one they started dying. When it boiled down to one last little soldier standing, there was no other way out but to “rig” my bedroom as permanent playpen for her.
Now according to Lorenzo’s theory, increased levels of stress at the time of the original imprinting e.g. being threatened by a predator and dangerous environment, causes the learning to be more robust that normal (possibly because this enhances survival). And I have to wonder, whether the dying of 6 siblings within in one week could be considered sufficiently stressful in order for any duck to then imprint on a human … even if there was original imprinting with the mother.
I therefore repeat the question, can ducks re-imprint?
I took to sleeping on the floor in order for Adari (of course, we had to rename her) to reach me quickly or cuddle up to me. She would cuddle against my neck or stomach. Imprinting was the last thing on my mind, all I knew was that this little one, would survive. I took to carrying her everywhere I go. (We also figured out she prefers CSI and Vampire Diaries to action movies). We threw out deodorants, insecticides, washed the floors with water only, I threw out perfumes, and Hubby, well, the poor man had to put on after shave outside the house on the way to work.
Day 4 after moving inside my bedroom permanently, Adari started following me around the house. She becomes very upset when I close the door on her, or leave the room without her. When I return after an absence, she would welcome me back with flapping wings (even if they are barely larger than a lip-ice) and pecking my face all over. She would even “shoo” away the dogs, when they attempt attention from me.
So yes, I wonder if there is something such as secondary imprinting. An imprinting that occurs “afterwards”, triggered by stress or danger, in order to survive? The re-imprinting, I mentioned? Adari was about 3+ weeks when her siblings died and when she started following me around.
Or is it simply that the imprinting period are much longer than researchers believe? New research indicates that the timing and window of imprinting can, within limits, be adapted to circumstances. Of course, it is a possibility that neither Adari nor her siblings ever saw their parents after hatching. I’ve not seen any adult ducks in the vicinity at all. Some people told me, it's possible that the parents early on saw something wrong with their "kids" and therefor dumped them on my doorstep (do Ducks do that?) while others again, believe the mother must have been killed. (Or, my Labrador might have disturbed the safe hiding place and chased them into my arms ...).
Up to writing of this post, Adari still shies away from other humans and all other animals. And I think, she is now about 7 weeks old. I am the only one she follows and allows to cuddle and kiss her. Duck really loves Mum best! Now while all this might sound like fun, this could be seriously negative. Birds, ducks, any animal - that imprint on humans prefer their company to their own species. They are unlikely to socialise with their own kind or return to the wild. I really hope I find answers before, similar to Lorenzo’s ducks, Adari one day starts courting me!
Any Imprinting specialists out there who wish to advise?
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