The Peabody Orlando ducks will soon waddle off into retirement.
A beloved tradition for more than 25 years at the hotel on International Drive, the Peabody Duck March will strut for the last time in Orlando on Sept. 30.
Last month, Hyatt Hotels agreed to pay $717 million for the Peabody Orlando, which will be rebranded as the Hyatt Regency Orlando Convention Center when the sale closes on Oct. 1.
When the hotel changes owners, the Duck March - a spectacle where the ducks walk to and from the hotel's fountain at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. - will cease, according to Duck Master Donald Tompkins.
"The Duck March itself is a trademarked tradition," said Tompkins, who is quick to point out his first name is Donald. "It can only be performed at Peabody Hotels."
For three years, Tompkins, 72, of DeBary, has been the man to lead the ducks from their $100,000 roof-top home to their private elevator onto a red carpet and eventually into a specially designed fountain.
Each day dozens of visitors with cameras in hand line up along the red carpet to catch a glimpse of the ducks - one male and four female North American Mallards - as they make their way into the fountain.
"People make a special connection with these birds," Tompkins said. "They also love that it's an 80-year tradition."
Ducks at the Peabody Hotel date back to the 1930s. Back then, the general manager of the orginal Peabody Hotel in Memphis returned from a weekend of drinking and duck hunting and placed three live decoy ducks into hotel's fountain. Visitors loved it, and soon the Duck March became a tradition at every Peabody Hotel. (When the Orlando hotel sale closes, the Memphis property will become the only Peabody Hotel.)
After the ducks in Orlando make their final march, they will retire to an undisclosed, private farm, Tompkins said. A spokeswoman for the Peabody told the Orlando Sentinel that the company has long had a procedure in place for retiring groups of the ducks after five years of service.
Tompkins will also retire as the Peabody's Duck Master, he said, and plans to spend more time with his family.
"It's been a very fast tenure, but a very, very rewarding one," Tompkins said. "I'm so glad I was able to do it...It's been a tremendous honor and a tremendous privilege. I will miss my relationship with the birds."
While the ducks will no longer march in Orlando, they are only a mouse-click away, Tompkins said.
"You can always see them online. They're all over the Internet," he said. "Of course, the best place to see them would be to go to Memphis."