London – He’s a sharp-eyed, no-nonsense killer who rules the roost at Wimbledon and the prestigious tennis championships wouldn’t function without him: meet Rufus, the hawk who makes pigeons’ lives hell.
Up at the crack of dawn throughout the two-week tournament which he has patrolled for 10 years, the sharp-eyed Harris hawk keeps pigeons in their place and makes sure they are not gobbling up the grass seed and fouling the pristine grounds.
Weighing just one pound, six ounces (625g), he has been training at the All England Club in southwest London since he was 16 weeks old.
“You couldn’t do this with just any bird. He’s just so chilled, calm and relaxed,” said his handler Imogen Davis.
“We start at 05:00. We clear the pigeons, if there’s any around, and get ready for the day’s play.
“But we’re here all year round which is when the majority of the work is done.
“The courts are constantly reseeded and the pigeons think it’s a picnic for them. They come in their absolute flocks and eat the grass seed.
“We’re here to ascertain that it’s Rufus’ territory – and it’s not a safe place for them.”
Pigeons would soon wreck the championships for players and spectators alike, Davis insisted.
“As soon as you’ve got a problem, it gets out of hand very quickly,” the 30-year-old said.
“If pigeons cause trouble throughout play, that can make a massive difference to a player, interrupting you when you’re in the zone. And the mess they can cause is pretty outrageous.”
It would be game, set and match to Rufus should any dim-witted pigeon try and take him on.
“If a pigeon wants to fight him, they can hang around and give it a go but ultimately it’s predator versus prey – and they’re going to take off every time,” said Davis.
Technology can be used to deter pigeons but Rufus’ job is safe: the natural terror Rufus instils in the pigeons of southwest London would be difficult to replace with gadgets.
Wimbledon is known for strawberries and cream but Rufus the Hawk prefers a protein-rich diet of chicken, quail, rabbit and pigeon.
Besides the All England Club, Rufus has also been known to do a job at Westminster Abbey, Northampton Saints rugby club and the occasional landfill site.
Rufus was mysteriously stolen back in 2012 but the culprit, who was never caught, had a change of heart and freed him two days later.
Now he is never out of his handler’s sight during the championships and even stays in Davis’s house.
Around 40 000 people a day pour through the gates during the tournament, but Rufus is unruffled by the commotion.
“These two weeks of the year are absolutely crazy. The rest of the year it’s just me and Rufus on the roof,” said Davis.
“He loves to fly and be out. His thing is to be out hunting. It’s all he knows. He’s not a show bird.
“He likes to keep me on my toes. He disappears down the golf club (across the road from the tennis site) and makes me go into the lake after him. But if I don’t go in after him he’ll make himself comfortable and I won’t be able to get him back.”
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