While working at the peregrine watch site last week a few visitors reported seeing a family of ducks up near Bonnington Linn. To their horror the mother duck had flown down from the ledge into the plunge pool below, leaving the chicks to make their way down the rock ledges by themselves. Unfortunately one or two did not survive the decent, but while out on patrol yesterday I spotted the mother in the river below Bonnington Linn with the five remaining ducklings, looking healthy and happy paddling along behind her. The natural instinct for chicks to recognize and follow their parent is one of the powerful impulses for juvenile birds and is strongest in ducklings and goslings, with the young literally following the adult anywhere.
This behaviour first develops within a few hours of the young hatching from their eggs and they associate the first moving thing they see as their parent. This ‘imprinting’ can result in other animals being mistaken for the parent including other species of bird, dogs and even humans! Imprinting was made most famous by the studies of newly hatched geese, imprinting on humans, as shown by the Austrian ethologist Konrad Lorenz, often pictured with a gaggle of young geese trailing behind him. This behaviour has also been taken advantage of by film makers, including migration documentaries filming geese following micro-lights and also in the hit 90’s movie: ‘Fly Away Home’ – a childhood favourite! Hopefully the ducklings continue to grow and join the other mallards which can be regularly seen out on the reserve.
Bye for now!
Alex Kekewich- Falls of Clyde Seasonal Ranger