Stimulus Movement, Hen Behaviour and Filial Imprinting in Japanese Quail (Coturnix coturnix japonica)


  • Carel ten Cate

    Corresponding author
    1. Sub-department of Animal Behaviour, University of Cambridge, Madingley
    2. Zoological Laboratory, University of Groningen, Haren
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Zoological Laboratory, University of Groningen, P.O. Box 14, NL-9750 AA Haren.


A living hen is a very attractive imprinting stimulus compared to artificial stimuli. The present study examined to what extent this attractiveness is influenced by the behaviour of the hen. The effectiveness of a living quail hen as an imprinting stimulus was compared with that of a moving stuffed hen, a non-moving stuffed hen and an empty cage. Naive quail chicks were exposed to one of these stimuli for 2 h. Both during and after this period chicks exposed to the living hen showed the strongest attachment to the stimulus, next came chicks exposed to a moving stuffed hen, while chicks exposed to a non-moving stuffed hen showed no indication of any attachment, i.e. they behaved in the same way as chicks exposed to an empty cage. Also, among chicks exposed to the living hen a correlation was present between the strength of the attachment to the hen and the behaviour of this hen during the exposure. In particular pecking and behaviour directed at the chick seemed to stimulate the development of a filial bond. Together, these findings indicate that a living hen is attractive not just because she moved, but also because of specific qualities of this movement. The behaviour of the living hen differed in various ways from the movement of the moving stuffed hen. The influence of these differences on the filial imprinting process is discussed and compared with similar findings for sexual imprinting and song learning.