In many ways, Sprite is a typical “teenager.”
Sometimes she doesn’t want to hug her mommy — especially if someone else is watching — or do what she’s told. She’s sassy and can be rude to others in the household. She watches TV, eats Doritos and would rather hang out with friends than be cooped up in the house.
In other ways, however, she’s a little different: She’d rather not wear anything, drops feathers on the carpet and poops in the bathtub.
Sprite, which is short for Watersprite, is a house duck. A diaper-wearing, parade-walking, adolescent Ancona house duck, to be exact.
North Whidbey resident Tara Castro raised Sprite since she was just a warm egg in an incubator. She and her husband, Aaron, and their son, Mason, moved from California about a year ago to a rural spot on North Whidbey. Castro said they have the usual pets — dogs, cats, aquarium fish — but her husband suggested they get something a little different.
A pet duck.
Castro researched ducks and discovered Anconas, a rare, endangered breed of domestic duck. The heritage breed is capable of eating large banana slugs — a nice quality for pets on Whidbey Island — is moderately calm and makes a fine pet according to the Livestock Conservancy.
Like most domestic ducks, the Ancona breed doesn’t fly.
Castro found a breeder, purchased a pair of ducks and soon had duck eggs. Sprite was the first to hatch. The tiny, yellow-and-black duckling immediately imprinted on Castro. The tiny ducky followed her around everywhere she went, like a baby duck following its mother.
The main problem with raising a duck inside, Castro found, is the poop, which she describes as being copious and a lot smellier than chicken droppings.
In order to keep the critter inside, Castro diapered Sprite, using socks from the Dollar Store and shoestrings.
When Sprite grew too big for the sock diapers, Castro found a solution on the Internet. She found a woman on the website Etsy who makes diapers specifically for ducks.
When she was just a tiny waterfowl, Sprite loved spending time with her people. She had her own blanket on the floor, where she would lounge and watch TV with the family. She feasted on Doritos, Cheerios and — her favorite — frozen peas. She learned to hug her adopted mother and to nip jewelry off people with her wee bill. She chased the dogs and cats out of any room she was in.
Sprite’s favorite activity, Castro said, is to take a bath.
As a baby, the duck refused to swim alone and would “scream” until someone would sit and watch her.
“I ended up eating meals in the bathroom,” Castro said, adding that Sprite also loved it when she used the blow dryer on her after bath time.
Sprite has her own car seat that Castro made from a canine car seat. The duck is strapped into a carrier and can watch out the window. She recently even got her nails done in town.
Castro and Sprite got a lot of attention marching — or waddling, in Sprite’s case — in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The leashed duck made it the entire length of the parade but was pretty tired in the end.
Afterward, she was contacted by a lot of people who were interested in Ancona ducks and house ducks. She has a waiting list for baby ducklings and has dozens of eggs in the incubator; some of her friends plan to raise the ducklings inside.
At four months old, Sprite is an adolescent duck, and her interests lie beyond her house. She makes it clear that she’d rather not wear diapers and wants to play outside with the other ducks.
“She’s a typical teenage girl right now,” Castro said.
As always, Sprite will get her way and will transition to being an outside duck. But Castro won’t have to suffer from empty nest syndrome.
The pitter-patter of tiny duck feet can once again be heard in their household as Castro is raising a newly hatched duckling.
“It’s definitely a fun experience,” she said, “even if it is a lot of work.”