Rufus the Harris hawk has been enjoying a sport-filled summer, chasing away intrusive pigeons at Wimbledon and Lord’s cricket ground.
Each morning from 4am, Rufus and his handler, Imogen Davis, patrol the All England Club in search of any pesky birds that could disrupt play.
“He does everything he possibly can to get rid of them every morning and then we get out of the way before the public come in,” Ms Davis said.
Rufus has presided over the annual Championships in SW19 for 11 years, after taking over from Hamish, who was trained by Ms Davis’s father.
Harris hawks are one of the few birds to hunt as part of a pack, but Ms Davis prefers to let Rufus continue ensuring Wimbledon stays pigeon-free.
“I couldn’t give it to one of the different birds because I feel like its Rufus’s domain,” she said.
The arrival of the new retractable roof over Court No 1 at this year’s Championships has added a new dimension to the hawk’s patrols.
Ms Davis said: “It makes him a little bit more playful, a little bit more mischievous – he’s just keen to try and work out what’s going on.
“He used to sit on the crane while they were building it and it was like he was surveying as if to be like ‘Who is doing all this to my territory?’.”
She added: “He will find out the little nooks and crannies the pigeons like to hide out in throughout the year.”
Ms Davis said she and Rufus had enjoyed “a very sport-filled summer already”, working at the Olympic Park and Lord’s.
“It’s a smaller area in Lord’s; here we’ve got so much ground, where there are lots of streets and things, so you’ve got to keep him really localised,” she said.
“Which is why using a hawk is really good because a falcon would take off and deal with a much larger area, whereas Rufus stays most of the time quite localised to me.”
Occasionally, however, Rufus, who has met tennis stars Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, will catch his trainer unawares.
On Wednesday, Ms Davis found herself running to keep up with him as he flew off to a Wimbledon golf course in search of pigeons.
She said: “He went off over to the course, because there were no pigeons here.
“So he’s like ‘I’m not going to just sit around here doing nothing, I’m going to go find some’.
“So he goes a little bit further to go find some pigeons and then I have to just run around looking like some crazy lady that’s looking up in trees and whistling.
“You get the strangest looks and then you hope you’re going to see them in half an hour when you get him back and you’ve got a bird on your hand so they don’t think you’re completely crazy.”
So far this year Rufus, who weighs 1lb 6oz (624g) and eats a diet of chicken and quail, has not caught any prey.
Ms Davis described his preferred method of rooting out pigeons.
“You just see him dive into a tree – I can’t even see them.
“His eyesight, he can see 10 times more clearly and further than we can.
“He’s so spot-on, you can’t even imagine how clear that can be. I just see him go straight into a tree, full force, and they just scatter out.”
Ms Davis said that, on a typical Wimbledon day, Rufus’s patrols are over by around 10am, allowing him to spend “the rest of his afternoon having a bath in the sunshine”.