Meet Rufus, the Harris Hawk that keeps the courts of The All England Lawn Tennis Club pigeon-free for the course of the Wimbledon Championships. Here he tells us that it’s not just the players that work their balls off at the tournament…
So Rufus, what makes you so good at your job?
‘Well, Harris Hawks are designed for weaving in and out of shrubs and woodland, so this means I can handle an urban environment like a pro. I can dodge everything – aerials, signposts and Boeing 747s – so flying between the courts and around the roof’s girders, seeking out pigeons who are trying their luck and attempting to roost, is a total breeze for me. I’m not a killer bird, however. I mean, I’m hard, sure, but I just let the pigeons know that The All England Club is my turf, you see.’
How did you get the job? Is there a lot of competition?
‘I was bred in captivity and then shown the ropes – well, the lawnmowers, crowds and cameras – at 16 weeks old, replacing my predecessor, Hamish. Competition-wise, falcons are built for vast open spaces, they can travel larger distances and can fend off the big birds like gulls. But for small areas, like a factory or a stadium, us hawks, and maybe a merlin, are best. We see off the smaller (but by no means less pesky, just to be clear) birds.’
Do you only patrol Wimbledon?
‘Throughout the year I divide my time between Wimbledon (the local pigeons can’t forget who’s boss, now), Westminster Abbey, the Royal Marsden Hospital and Billingsgate Fish Market, and that’s just the half of it. What can I say, I’m a busy guy.’
(Me, my trainer Imogen and my mate Muzza)
When you’re not patrolling, how do you spend your down time? Do you hit the pub with some of the players?
‘No, I like being alone. In the mornings before things get too hectic, I often pop to the golf course next door for a little quiet time. If the sun’s out (which can be a rare thing over Wimbledon fortnight), I have a splash about in the pond too. Occasionally I chillax in the back garden of a house next to the All England Club. It’s a shady spot and its residents are a nice bunch. But things do get a little embarrassing when my trainer, Imogen Davis, has to knock on their front door and ask to retrieve me. Yeah, thanks for that Imogen…’
Finally, who have you got your money on winning the Wimbledon title this year?
‘Well I was routing for Murray all the way, but after his quarter final bomb (NICE ONE, ANDY), I think Djokovic will sneak it. I can feel it in my feathers.’