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Early development of gaze following into distant space in juvenile Greylag geese (Anser anser)

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Kehmeier, S., Schloegl, C., Scheiber, I. B. R., & Weiß, B. M. (2011). Early development of gaze following into distant space in juvenile Greylag geese (Anser anser). Animal Cognition, 14(4), 477-485. doi:10.1007/s10071-011-0381-x.

Visual co-orientation with another’s gaze direction (gaze following) may provide important information about the location of food, social interactions or predators. Gaze following has been shown in a variety of mammals, but only in few bird species, and has not been tested in precocial birds at all. It has been suggested that gaze following is an anti-predator behaviour, and in Common ravens (Corvus corax) and rooks (C. frugilegus), it emerges shortly after fledging, at a time when young birds leave the predator-safe nest. However, if gaze following is adaptive, the developmental pattern should differ between altricial and precocial birds. Greylag geese (Anser anser) are highly social birds with a precocial development. Goslings move and feed independently within 24 h post-hatching, and they are highly vulnerable to aerial predators. We therefore predicted that greylag geese are capable of gaze following and that they develop this skill already pre-fledging. We experimentally tested 19 hand-raised greylag goslings for their ability to follow a conspecific’s gaze when they were between 10 days and 6 weeks old. In line with our predictions, first responses were already detectable in 10-day-old goslings. Our results therefore not only demonstrate that greylag geese follow the gaze of conspecifics into distant space, but that they also develop this ability much earlier than altricial birds.