Konrad Lorenz: the Mother of the Geese

March 26th, 2019

Konrad Lorenz was a famous Austrian zoologist, ethologist and ornithologist. He studied instinctive behaviour in animals, especially in greylag geese and jackdaws.


Most people know about him because of an experiment he did that tested if he could convince baby geese that he was their mother.


As part of the experiment Konrad Lorenz split a sample of greylag goose eggs into two groups. One group was hatched normally by their mother. When the goslings saw their mother they followed her around in the normal way.


The other group of eggs was placed in an incubator. This is a warm place that helps eggs to hatch without their mother. Konrad Lorenz made sure that he was the first thing that the little geese saw when they hatched. Amazingly they considered him to be their mother. From then on they followed him wherever he went. They even went swimming together. When the goslings met their real goose mother they didn’t recognise her at all. Instead, they stayed close to Konrad Lorenz. The goslings had formed a picture (imprint) of their mother and that was Konrad Lorenz.


By carrying out more experiments Konrad Lorenz found out that there is a certain time frame in which goslings will imprint someone. The imprinting process has to occur between 13-16 hours after hatching. If Konrad Loren had been seen by the goslings any later, they wouldn’t have taken him to be their mother.


Nowadays Konrad Lorenz’ experiments still help us to understand animal behaviour.