The origin of the common duck has divided opinion amongst zoologists, biologists and phylogeneticists for over a hundred and fifty years.
The almost unanimously supported view is that ducks evolved along a similar path to other birds. However an alternative theory was put forward by the Victorian eccentric, Charles Duckwin (not to be confused with the eminent Charles Darwin), in his paper ‘The Origin of The Species’ more commonly known as ‘How Ducks Became Ducks’, published on January 1st 1865 (not to be confused with Darwin’s publication of the same name some 6 years earlier). It proposed the idea that ducks are unique, having developed along multiple evolutionary paths, mutating into a variety of genetically diverse species. Unfortunately Duckwin was unable to produce any scientific evidence whatsoever to support the existence of these so called ‘duck hybrids’.
He claimed to have stumbled across numerous fossilised hybrids in Northern Spain, unfortunately, according to Duckwin’s account, the entire excavation was buried in a sudden mud slide along with his camera. Sadly there were no witnesses as it was a solo expedition. On his return to England he made sketches and notes based on what he claimed to have seen, but the consensus was that he was a complete fruitcake.
His work was universally dismissed as nonsense and Duckwin himself shunned and ridiculed by public and peers alike.
Remarkably fossils recently discovered on the Jurassic Coast in the UK appear to lend support to several of the ideas put forward in his previously discredited work. Fortunately although Duckwin’s work was never published, several of his original notes and drawings were found during renovations to his old family home and generously donated to the Science Museum by his great grandson, Eric.