New Chicks on the Block: Animal Behavior Students Raise Baby Chickens

Dozens of Andover Seniors and Uppers are discovering the joys of parenthood thanks to a newly relaunched program and
a brood of fluffy-feathered yellow friends.

In Animal Behavior class taught by Andrea Bailey, Instructor in Biology, students have adopted chicks for a week and a half long experiment in imprinting, an intuitive process that has the chick learn to recognize the student as a mother figure. By spending time with the chick, providing it with
warmth, and coaching it to respond to a red cloth tied around the student’s wrists or ankles, students can teach their new pets to follow along by their sides and answer to calls.

Thomas Glover ’18 said, “[Imprinting is] an innate behavior that most birds, mainly chickens and ducks, that aren’t born in a nest, have. The chickens can imprint on really anything, but they prefer things that are red, things that move, or things that look like birds. So in the wild, the combination of all three is their mother.”

Brought to Gelb as eggs, the chicks were incubated until they hatched early last week. Each student in the class got their own bird, and induced imprinting using their body heat and the sound of their own voice.

Although the imprinting activity had been done in years prior by Thomas Cone, retired Instructor in Biology, he had stopped since he had nowhere to send the chicks after the imprinting activity was conducted.

“Though he no doubt taught about imprinting each year, Mr. Cone ran out of places to send chicks at the end of the unit and therefore didn’t feel it was ethical to get them without knowing where they would go afterwards,” said Bailey.

This year, however, Bailey contacted Stephanie Cormier, Student Program Coordinator, who agreed to take the chicks to her farm after the experiment, thus allowing for the imprinting experiment to be conducted.

The chicks will live on Stephanie Cormier’s farm following the experiment.

“Since Ms. Cormier was willing to house the chicks on her farm after the class finished with them, I decided that bringing back, and even expanding, this work with live chicks seemed like a really good fit for my vision for the course,” said Bailey.

Unfortunately, there have been incidents of chicks passing away. After a power outage in Gelb while the eggs were still incubating, the humidity dropped very low in the incubator. The chicks were already partially hatched during this time, causing the exposed membrane to dry up. According to students interviewed by The Phillipian, two chicks did not hatch as a result of the outage.

The first 36 hours after hatching are a critical time for the chicks — after this period, the birds switch from innate imprinting to associative learning and will not be able to imprint on their “mother.” According to students, another factor that facilitates the imprinting process is being rough and showing tough love to the chicks.

Macey Mannion ’19 said, “If we spent enough time with it alone, it started following us when we walked around. The longer the distance you walk with the chick, the stronger it imprints on you… I’m the soccer manager, so I brought him to practice and was bringing him around the track, and just playing with him.”

Nate Cruz ’18 said, “We were actually told that if you accidentally kick your chick, it’s actually better, because their moms are not easy on them. Their moms hit them and nudge them, and she will keep going and the chick just has to follow. So the pain actually strengthens the imprinting.”

The chicks were kept in shoeboxes, which were equipped for keeping the chick warm and comfortable. Although the chicks were in the classroom during the day, students had the chicks sleep in the dorm with them in order to spend as much time with it
as possible.

Cruz said, “One thing I did to help the imprinting was when I was in my room, I just held the chick and let it sleep with me.”

Glover said, “I kept my chick in my closet, which may seem like I was just trying to get it to be quiet, but it was actually a lot warmer and darker in there. The chick was able to sleep better that way, and so it was less noisy.”

All of the chicks have been named by their students. Glover’s is named Jim, Cruz’s is Frank, and Mannion’s is Chester.

“It’s been fun, but very distracting. He doesn’t stop chirping anytime, especially when I put him in his box, so it’s a little distracting when I’m trying to get other work done,” said Mannion.

In an e-mail to The Phillipian, Bailey said, “This activity also allows students who may never have interacted closely with animals (beyond dogs and cats), the opportunity to form a connection with a living creature, learn how to meet its needs, and experience the excitement (and occasional frustration) of working with an unfamiliar animal.”