Development of visual species identification in ducklings: What is the role of imprinting?

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Timothy Johnston, Dean (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
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Abstract: The phenomenon of imprinting (a rapid form of exposure learning) is widely presumed to underlie the formation of normal, species-typical social preferences in precocial birds. To determine whether this is in fact the case, 24-h-old domestic and semi-wild mallard ducklings (Anas platyrhynchos) were allowed to follow a stuffed hen of one of three sympatric waterfowl species for 20 min. The models used were mallard, redhead (Aythya americana), and pintail (Anas acuta) hens. When later tested for their preference for the familiar hen in simultaneous choice tests with one of the other two stuffed models, only those birds trained with the Mallard and tested with the Mallard and Pintail models (designated the Mallard versus Pintail group) showed a preference for the familiar model. (That preference was shown by both domestic and semi-wild ducklings.) In none of the other three groups (Mallard versus Redhead, Redhead versus Mallard, and Pintail versus Mallard) was the imprinting procedure effective in producing a preference for the familiar model. When other ducklings were similarly trained with either the Mallard model, a red-and-white-striped box, or a green styrofoam ball, a preference for the familiar model was found in all four groups (.Mallard versus Red Box, Red Box versus Mallard, Red Box versus Green Ball, and Green Ball versus Red Box). Increasing the length of the training period from 20 min to 2 h and to 24 h did not produce a preference for the familiar Mallard over the unfamiliar Redhead. These results raise some doubt that imprinting as currently conceived is the behavioural mechanism of visual species identification as it occurs in nature.

Additional Information

Animal Behaviour, 29(4):1082-1099.
Language: English
Date: 1981
Ducks, Imprinting, Species identification, Animal development

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