Monday 26 September 2016

Double trouble for pigeons invading Wimbledon

Published 27/06/2016 | 07:16

Rufus the Harris hawk helps to keep birds and vermin away
Rufus the Harris hawk helps to keep birds and vermin away

There will be double trouble for the pigeons of Wimbledon this year - Rufus the Hawk has a partner in crime to keep the bothersome birds at bay.

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Rufus has been patrolling the skies over the All England Lawn Tennis Club for the past nine years, ruling the roost alone as he chases unwanted pests away from the venue.

But this year he will have a young apprentice by his side, another Harris hawk named Pollux - and any pigeon that dares wander near the pristine grass courts will be in for a torrid time.

While Rufus is a veteran of SW19, young Pollux took a little time to find his feathers last year.

Owner Imogen Davies said: "Pollux came and did a few flights but he wasn't quite ready for the television.

"He kept landing on the BBC Breakfast sound booms, and that is something Rufus has had to help accustom him to.

"It's important that we expose him to that sort of environment when he's very young, just like Rufus was, so he's not bothered about television cameras and things like that, as they've become quite a big part of his daily routine in Wimbledon."

The pair have been patrolling together in the tournament build-up, and under Rufus' expert guidance Pollux - who is almost two - is soaring.

Miss Davies, 29, said: "He has got quite a different nature to Rufus and quite a different flying style.

"Rufus likes to weave in and out of the girders while Pollux likes to get a lot of height, which is a bit more unusual for a Harris hawk.

"So Pollux is quite often soaring above Centre Court and Court Number One on a higher patrol seeing what's about."

Rufus, who also works at Northampton Saints rugby ground, Fulham Football Club and Westminster Abbey, has carried out weekly visits to Wimbledon over the last year.

Each day of the tournament, the pair will patrol from 5am to 9am before the public arrive - working in shifts and on different courts.

Their main focus is Centre Court, as its roof is the perfect haven for pigeons that like nothing more than tucking into the grass seed.

Miss Davies, who helps run her family business - Avian Environmental Consultants in Northamptonshire, said: "They just see it as a picnic and it's easy for them to come and get some food, in the vicinity of a really comfortable, cosy and well-protected roof.

"They don't know the difference between the middle of a final and when it's the middle of December."

Rufus, who has his own Wimbledon pass and Twitter page, has been tucking into a diet of chicken and quail to keep him at his perfect flying weight of 1lb 6oz.

And with wings a metre wide allowing him to swoop at up to 30mph, the pigeons stand little chance of escape - though if he does catch one he might disappear for a while to tuck into an unexpected dinner.

But anyone wanting a glimpse of Rufus or Pollux in action will not see them haring after a bird during Championship point - health and safety laws mean the hawks cannot patrol during a match.

Miss Davies added: "You check the skies of Wimbledon in the morning, but you never know what's going to happen in the afternoon. It won't be Rufus' fault if a pigeon lands on the court in the middle of the final."

Press Association

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