Wimbledon 2014 is underway, and the biggest star so far is a sharp-eyed hawk employed to keep the pigeons at bay.
Hawks have been employed at the All-England club to deter pigeons for 14 years, but the latest pigeon-scarer-in-chief, a six-year-old Harris Hawk named Rufus, has been generating headlines thanks in no small part to a clever viral ad by Stella Artois.
Rufus has been making weekly visits to the south-west London venue during the past 12 months, but steps up to daily 5am patrols when the highlight of the British tennis calendar is underway.
His owner, Imogen Davies, said the role of “chief pigeon scarer” is important because of the conditions at SW19.
The pigeons have got a perfect roosting ground up in the roof because it’s nice and sheltered for them,” Imogen explained.
“They don’t have to go very far to get the most exquisite food they could possibly imagine in the grass seeds at Wimbledon. Rufus is there as a non-lethal deterrant to get rid of the pigeons.
“The pigeons see Rufus as a threat. It’s the innate sense of fight or flight the pigeons go by. They
don’t really hang around long enough to see whether they’d win a fight with Rufus.”
The hawk has his own accreditation pass and has to work throughout the year to keep the pigeons away.
“If he just turned up once and got rid of the pigeons, they’d be back again because they’re very habitual,” Miss Davies said. “It’s something that you need to keep up so that they ascertain it’s not a safe roosting ground.
Imogen even made the front page of Reddit after she did an 'Ask Me Anything' Q&A session with the online community.
"I was lucky enough to be born into a 'falconry family', and enjoy every single day," she wrote.
"I think that the opportunity to get close-up to such incredible birds is one that everybody should embrace."
Rufus has hit the headlines before - two years ago, he was stolen from a car overnight during Wimbledon.
After widespread media coverage, the bird of prey was handed in to the RSPCA a few days later.
Miss Davies revealed that security around Rufus has been stepped up to avoid a repeat theft and she often checks him for any harmful effects of the incident.
She said: “Sometimes I think he’s a bit grumpier, but I just think that’s his behaviour and he’s a bit like a teenager anyway. Ever since that I’m hypersensitive to everything he does.”