Home | Field Notes and Observations on Birds | Friendly Pet Birds or Outcasts: The Positives and Negatives of Imprinting – Part 2

Friendly Pet Birds or Outcasts: The Positives and Negatives of Imprinting – Part 2

In Part I of this article we examined the pros and cons of imprinting  – the process wherein an animal comes to see adults of another species as its natural parents – as regards birds in zoos, the pet trade and conservation programs.  Today I’d like to relate a few more of my experiences with imprinting as it related to the conservation of endangered birds and mammals.

Andean and California Condor Reintroductions

Rare birds raised for use in future release/re-stocking programs present a unique set of challenges.  Many are needed, and so pulling eggs to stimulate a second clutch is desirable.  However, birds raised by hand or under foster parents of another species face poor prospects for survival in the wild.

I have worked with both Andean and California condor chicks that were destined for future release into natural habitats.  These magnificent raptors are quick to imprint upon the people who feed them, so a novel solution was devised.  Keepers assigned to hand-feed condor chicks worked from behind a curtain, and presented food in the beak of hand puppet which closely resembled the head of an adult condor.  I’m happy to report that many hand-reared condors of both species successfully made the transition from captive to free-living existence.

Cows as Surrogate Mothers for Rare Species

Certain endangered mammals with which I’ve worked have presented particularly difficult dilemmas.  Gaur (rare wild cattle native to India and Southeast Asia) for example, breed readily in captivity but produce only 1 calf every 3-4 years.  In order to bolster this species’ numbers, captive female gaurs are sometimes chemically induced to produce several eggs instead of the usual single egg.

The extra eggs are implanted into domestic cows, which then give birth to and successfully raise baby gaurs.  However, cow-raised gaurs are not accepted by parent-raised gaurs.  Gaurs that are raised among domestic cows do not acquire normal gaur behaviors (i.e. appropriate reactions to dominant animals) and are attacked when integrated into gaur herds.  They rarely breed, and hence do not contribute to the species’ survival prospects.


Captive-born female gorillas are often unable to raise their own young, lacking examples and mentors in the form of older females, as would be the case in the wild (some zoos have tried “training films, to no avail!).  Hence many must be hand-raised (please see photo), but these too are often ostracized by other gorillas and rarely reproduce.

Further Reading

You can read more about the California condor reintroduction program at http://www.bigsurcalifornia.org/condors.html.




  1. avatar

    i have a question, we have a lot of birds where we live and i can’t figure out what they are. They are black and tan (i think, they move pretty quick) when they fly their wings are out to the side, they are mor aerodynamic sort and they stay close to the ground can someone help?

  2. avatar

    Hello Lisa, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog. Unfortunately, I’ll need more information before attempting to identify the birds that you saw. There are over 10,000 species of birds worldwide, with 930+ residing in the USA and Canada, so it’s quite a task!

    Please let me know where observed the birds, how the colors are arranged on the birds, the shape of their beaks, size, etc. You may also wish to check a field guide…if you live in the USA, the Peterson and Audubon guides have photos and drawings of all native species.

    Sorry I could not be of more help.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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