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Published:June 15th, 2008 14:14 EST
The Duck Master

The Duck Master

By Mary-Elizabeth Hittel

As John Phillip Sousa`s "King Cotton March" plays, sounds of quacking and rustling feathers can be heard.

Five ducks race down the red carpet and splash into place for the rest of the day.

After them briskly walks a man in a red jacket, carrying a cane with a gold duck head on top. He is the Peabody Hotel`s Duck Master.

Meet the Duck Master

Dave Robinson, who has worked at the Peabody Orlando on International Drive for eight months, is the current Duck Master.

"I ended up getting the job on a whim,"  Robinson said. "Normally, the Peabody will promote someone within the hotel to Duck Master, but this time they advertised in a newspaper. I saw the ad and applied. I have been working with animals for such a long time now that I jumped at this job."

Although Robinson`s days off vary, he still loves his job.

"The only downside to this job is never being able to make plans for a day off," Robinson added. "I work five days a week and get two off, " Robinson said. "I have two substitutes from concierge that I`ve trained. But still, I wouldn`t trade this job for anything."

Hotel guests can experience Robinson`s job by signing up to be Honorary Duck Master.

Normally, the Honorary Duck Master will be a child, Robinson said. But whoever it is for that day has a great time. 

Duck March

The Duck Master`s morning begins at 10:30, when he rolls out the red carpets from the designated elevator to the fountain. Just before 11 a.m., Robinson takes the elevator up to the Recreation level to get the ducks from the Duck Palace.

A pagoda-shaped, glass enclosure that holds a pond with a fountain, the Duck Palace is where the ducks live when they`re not swimming in their fountain on the main floor of the hotel.

Using a cane, Robinson herds the ducks from the Duck Palace to the elevator.

"The slowest and most difficult part is getting the ducks from their palace to the elevator," Robinson said. "They don`t mind the elevator ride, but once they hit the red carpet, they practically fly down the carpet to the fountain, where they get a snack."

The ducks do this every day, 365 days a year, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The guests adore seeing the ducks.

"I was surprised that [the ducks] ran," said newlywed Alexia Anastesia, 25.

Anastesia`s new husband, Dan Brown, had never seen the ducks before.

"They were great, " Brown said. "I loved seeing them run. " 

Tradition

The original Peabody Hotel is located in Memphis, Tenn. The Peabody Orlando opened in November 1986.

The tradition of the ducks was started in the 1930s, when the general manager and another hotel employee put three English call ducks in the fountain of the hotel. The two had been out hunting and needed a place to store the ducks.

When they went to remove the ducks from the fountain, the hotel guests commented on how wonderful it was to watch the ducks. With this, the tradition of the Peabody ducks began.

The title of Duck Master began in 1939, with the first Duck Master Edward Pembroke. Pembroke started as a bellman at the hotel and because of his previous work with Ringling Bros. Circus, he was asked to train the ducks. Pembroke was Duck Master for 50 years, and there is a Peabody suite named in his honor.

Different Ducks

When Pembroke was Duck Master, he changed the breed to mallards.  

"Mallards are easier to train because they see color, which is why we use the color red, they associate it with food, " Robinson said. "And as a plus, they are friendlier with one another and with outside people."

Called a team, the ducks are at the hotel for six months, or a tour of duty, and then another team will come and work for six months. The six months that the ducks are not at the hotel are spent at a duck farm close by.

"I trained this team of ducks right when I started here," Robinson said. "And now they`re their own little family."

The five ducks, one male and four females, are known as the green team and will stay in this family group for the rest of their lives. Although the ducks don`t have names, Robinson can identify each female by the color band around her leg.

"People hear that the ducks work six months a year and ask why they don`t get any rest," Robinson said. I reply, "The ducks get six whole months off, they`ll be fine.` The Peabody ducks have the best care possible."

The best part

"Can this job get any better?" Robinson asked. "I would say no."

"I consider myself so lucky," Robinson said. "I can say this is the best job I have ever had. I have acted and done pet therapy for the elderly, but there is just something fantastic about working with these ducks."

He added that he has such a strong connection with ducks because he raised them as a child. After Easter every year, Robinson`s father picked up ducklings that parents had given their children for the holiday. Robinson took on the task of raising them.

"Working as the Peabody`s Duck Master reminds me of being young," Robinson said. "My other favorite part is interacting with people. I love talking to people and telling them stories, making them happy. And I never get tired of answering the same questions about the ducks day after day. I see it as just another perk."

It seems that even the hotel guests would love to have Robinson`s job.

"I`m the type of person that would absolutely take the job in a heartbeat," said Linda Bolos of Chicago. "He does it with such pride."

"It`s like the perfect retirement job," guest Lee Cain agreed.