How the South's Luckiest Ducks are Cared For
Of course, ducks—even celebrity ducks—don’t march down a red carpet naturally. That’s where the hotel’s Duckmasters come in.
Every morning around 11 a.m. the Peabody Hotel is invaded by waterfowl. The lobby of the Memphis hotel hosts a parade of ducks who march down a red carpet, where much to the delight of hotel guests young and old, they make their way to a tiny staircase and make themselves at home in the lobby’s marble fountain. Once there, they swim and splash in the fountain until around 5 p.m. each day, which is when they clock out for the day and make their way back up to their penthouse coop.
The hotel opened in 1869, but the mallards didn’t start marching in until the 1930s. That’s when Frank Schutt, who was General Manager of The Peabody at the time, returned from an Arkansas hunting trip with some live duck decoys a silly idea. According to the hotel, Schutt and his hunting buddy “had a little too much Tennessee sippin' whiskey” and thought it would be hilarious to put their ducks in the fountain. Hotel guests loved it so much that what started out as a joke, became a hotel tradition. Now, people from all over the world come to see the Peabody Hotel’s famous ducks.
Of course, ducks—even celebrity ducks—don’t march down a red carpet naturally. That’s where the hotel’s Duckmasters come in. The role originated back in 1940, when it turned out that one of the hotel’s bellmen, Edward Pembroke, was a former circus animal trainer and offered to teach the ducks a new trick. He taught them to march and delivered them to the lobby fountain in style, earning himself the title of The Peabody Duckmaster. He served in that role for 50 years, before finally retiring in 1991.
So how do you teach a duck to march? According to the hotel’s new Duckmaster Doug Weatherford who spoke to Garden & Gun, it only takes ducks about seven to ten days to learn the march. “After a few days of that, they get it,” they get it.
Ducks it turns out are creatures of habit, who love a good routine. “Once they see they have to do the same thing a couple times a day to get in and out of the fountain, they really can’t stand not to do it,” Weatherford explained.
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The working mallards stay at the hotel for 90 days and then are returned to a local family’s farm to re-acclimate to life in the wild, and a new flock is brought in. Like any guest at the hotel, the ducks are a pampered bunch. They get a shower every morning, have their coop cleaned once and sometimes twice a day, and are fed a nutritious diet of lettuce, cracked corn, nutritional pellets, laying mash or a powdered poultry supplement, and oyster shells, which help them digest their food.
As for their living quarters, they live in “an approximately $200,000 structure on the rooftop,” aptly dubbed the duck palace, which is lined with an artificial sod lawn. To keep the ducks in style, they have their own Peabody Hotel built inside the coop, including, of course, a small marble fountain of their very own. Of course, no discerning duck would do without personal service as Weatherford notes: “Of course, they have their own valet service: me.”