We took this picture two days ago, in celebration of the fact that at around seven years old he finally took his first swim.
You see, Spot isn't just any duck. He's a hydrophobic sterile hybrid intersex duck, who thinks he's a chicken. I'm going to tell you his story.
Soon after we moved to Portugal, we bought a batch of ducklings. We were told that they'd be fine outside in a run with a shelter, bedding, food and water. Unfortunately this proved not to be the case as they all jumped into the water and failed to warm up again. My son went to check them and found that they had all died, except one, who for some reason had stayed out of the water. My son picked him, cuddled him warm, and brought him into the house. He had a black spot on his head, so naturally we started to call him 'Spot', and the name stuck.
Spot is no ordinary duck though. He is what the locals call a pato francês. These are hybrids between a muscovy duck, which has a goose-like liver which will engorge if the bird is force-fed, and an ordinary duck. The result is a sterile hybrid, much like a mule, that grows fast and can be used to make fois gras. They are very popular in Portugal as meat birds, but they aren't really much use for anything else as they don't generally lay eggs and are sterile. Many are intersex, as Spot himself turned out to be. But we didn't know all that at the time.
We tried to give Spot as normal a life as possible by integrating him with the chickens.
So this poor lonesome hybrid intersex duck grew up believing he was a chicken. This was not without its downside. He would spend hours perched on the edge of the waterbowl, gazing longingly at the water, but, knowing that chickens don't like water, he wouldn't go in. He would resist temptation for as long as possible until he lost his balance and fell in, then he would get into a terrible panic and run terrified into the chicken house to hide in shame. We hoped that in time he'd overcome his confusion, but it was not to be. Eventually he stopped gazing at the water and did his best to behave as a chicken should.
Eventually, we got some ducklings. We learned from our mistakes and this time they all survived. We were worried about Spot's psychological well-being, so we thought the best thing to do was to use him as an 'uncle' to the youngsters and maybe they could all learn to be one happy family.
He tried. He tried very, very hard. He appreciated having a purpose in life, but those ducklings loved water and would insist on jumping into it and splashing water all over him, which would make him scurry away in fear. The ducklings grew up fine, but Spot just didn't understand them and was very lonely being away from his chicken family.
Things looked up when we introduced him to our drake, Sergio. They palled up immediately, and Spot happily became his bitch. They went everywhere together, Sergio in the lead and Spot tagging along behind, ever faithful, ever loyal. Here is is, at his proudest, standing on guard while Goosey sits on some eggs and Sergio attends to the boudoir.
And so Spot had found his place in life. And gradually, his fear of water began to diminish. Two days ago my husband found him swimming in the pond, for the first time ever. Well done, Spot. We're so proud of you!
But unfortunately, it seems to have been his swan-song. The next day his strength started to fade, and he spend all day today in his house, on a fresh bed of hay, surrounded by his chicken and duck family, gradually drifting off to sleep. He'll probably be gone by morning, but he did finally accept his duck-hood. And he did finally find the strength to follow his heart, overcome his fears and break free of society's expectations.