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A man named Rick finally got to experience what Mother's Day feels like this year, thanks to 13 little ducklings that think that he is their mother and follow him around all day. The unusual saga began when the mother of the young chicks disappeared soon after laying the eggs.
To save them, Rick, who will not reveal his last name or location, decided to place them in an incubator. Hence, when the chicks hatched, the first large moving object they saw was Rick and immediately concluded that he was their 'mother'.
While this may seem odd, it is quite common among animals. Known as imprinting, it is a natural biological phenomenon that occurs in newly-born birds and mammals, allowing them to form a bond with their mother as well as providing them with information about their own identity. For birds like ducks, geese and turkeys that start walking as soon as they hatch, the imprint occurs instantly, which is what happened in this case.
What's amazing is that researchers have discovered that young birds imprint themselves to the first moving thing they set their eyes on - even if they are inanimate objects. During their study, they found young chicks attaching themselves to gumboots, balls, and even an electric train.
The downside of imprinting is that young animals have a hard time detaching themselves from their adopted 'mother'. That means that they are often unable to return to the wild or socialize with their own species. This is the reason researchers use innovative methods when raising animals in captive breeding programs. At California and Arizona's Condor Recovery Project, the caretakers use hand puppets shaped like condors to raise the chicks, while researchers at the Hetaoping Research and Conservation Center in Western China dress in Panda suits to raise the critically endangered animals in captivity.
Whether these baby ducks will continue following Rick around for the rest of their lives, is anybody's guess. According to his neighbor Mathew Sargent who filmed the video, Rick is planning to keep his young 'kids' around for a while and like any good mother even 'potty train' them in a small section of his yard. Once they get a little older, he plans to take them over to a neighborhood lake where will hopefully learn to mingle with their own kind.
Resources: news.yahoo.com, pbs.org