Leading the March

Petrina’s passion for The Peabody shows in duckmaster role

By Andy Meek

Two times a day, every day, The Peabody hotel guests that Anthony Petrina is responsible for perform their time-honored routine, eliciting camera flashes and adoration from tourists while helping preserve the continuity of a popular tradition at the hotel.

Twice a day, Anthony Petrina leads The Peabody hotel ducks in their time-honored march. The routine elicits camera flashes and adoration from tourists and helps preserve the continuity of a popular tradition at the hotel.

(Photos Courtesy of The Peabody)

The red-carpet march of the hotel’s five North American mallards every day at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. is as of this year an 80-year-old ritual at The Peabody. And a little more than a year ago, Petrina became the fifth person to don the dapper mantle of the hotel’s duckmaster.

“Everything duck-related falls to me, whether it be the care to the protection to the training of the ducks,” said Petrina, who got recruited to the job from within the hotel.

He’d been a member of the hotel’s Capriccio Grill restaurant team since 2010, and he studied hotel and resort management at the University of Memphis.

“The ducks do their daily march, but we’ve also got to make sure they get out of the hotel sometimes, too,” Petrina said about his responsibilities. “We take the ducks to elementary schools and retirement homes every year. We were at the recent Stax Museum press conference. They’ve been to Columbus, Ohio, and the gentleman before me took the ducks to New York.”

That’s where the ducks have the distinct honor of being the only animals to perform on Broadway.

Petrina wanted to work at the South’s Grand Hotel for as long as he can remember. He was persistent in applying, and landed a job waiting tables.

It wasn’t long before he got bumped up to being a manager, and not long after that a position open up for an assistant duckmaster.

Including Petrina, the hotel received about 800 applicants for the job. Petrina was turned down.

“But when we came upon the need for a full-time duckmaster, they remembered me and that I was interested, that I was interested in working with the ducks, good with people and good with animals,” he said. “They called me, and here I am, marching ducks to this day.”

His job is about more than putting on a red suit jacket with tassels, and leading the ducks down the red carpet.

One important feature of the ducks is that they’re very much habit-forming creatures. Anyone handling them has to take care to do the same thing every day.

Anthony Petrina is the fifth person to play the role of The Peabody hotel’s duckmaster. The red-carpet march of the hotel’s mallard ducks occurs twice a day.

“If you deviate from that too much, they kind of turn into divas and start running off the other direction,” Petrina said.

What’s more, there’s a new ice-breaking period every three months. Every 90 days, the hotel switches out the five mallards for a new quintet.

If the hotel kept any group of ducks in place too long, they’d become domesticated.

“We don’t want to deprive any duck of actually being a wild duck,” said Kelly Earnest, the hotel’s director of public relations. “So we’ll bring them here to the hotel, keep them three months at a time, get them trained, do their daily marches, visit the community, and at the end of it all they’ll go back to the gentleman who raised them. He and his family have been raising wild ducks for us for almost 30 years.”

While the ducks are staying at the hotel and in Petrina’s care, they won’t be fed out of anyone’s hand, they won’t be picked up and petted and they won’t even be individually named. If the hotel staff did any of those things, it might encourage them to subconsciously treat the ducks like pets.

Nevertheless, Petrina is in charge of what are perhaps the most pampered ducks in the world. They stay in a $200,000 granite- and marble-lined room. They have a custom bronze duck fountain and a little duck-sized version of the hotel complete with a view of the city.

They also have their own “butler,” and lunch is served to them on a silver tray.

From their perspective, the ducks learn to recognize Petrina and his voice. They are fitted with colored bands around their ankles so they can be distinguished.

Petrina says he has no trouble telling them apart. For one thing, all of their beaks are different.

The feathers also all lay a certain way. It’s like looking at two golden Labrador retrievers, he said, and knowing which is which.

In addition to working with the ducks, Petrina’s job includes being an ambassador for the hotel.

“You’re standing in the lobby talking to guests all day long, answering questions about Downtown, the hotel, the ducks and Memphis in general,” Earnest said. “So it has to be someone who’s very service-oriented.”