LONDON – Breitbart News sat down with the biggest celebrity at Wimbledon. No, not Serena Williams or Roger Federer. We spoke with Rufus the Hawk and his lovely handler Imogen Davis to learn more about him and why he has the most important job at the All England Lawn Tennis Club.
— Rufus The Hawk (@RufusTheHawk) July 12, 2015
“We started in 2008,” stated Imogen, as Rufus sat on her arm at full attention. “He flies at Wimbledon all year, but shows up everyday during the championships.”
Rufus scares off pigeons from nesting in the courts or eating the valuable grass seed that grows into Wimbledon’s most valuable asset. Pigeons are not the hawk’s natural prey so Rufus gathers the birds and flies them away.
“This seed is like nectar to pigeons,” continued Imogen. “Pigeons don’t care if it’s the quietest day of the year or the middle of an Andy Murray match!”
Before she finished her statement, Rufus let out a high pitch squawk.
“Sniffer dogs!” Imogen pointed out. Wimbledon added more security including sniffer dogs due to terrorism high threat level.
She added: “He sees them before I do. In the wild it can be an innate instinct because coyotes and hyenas are a threat to them.”
— Rufus The Hawk (@RufusTheHawk) July 6, 2015
The Harris Hawk can hear and see ten times better than humans. A hawk will take out its prey before a human notices the other animal was within their proximity.
Often, while not on the job, hawks wear hoods over their eyes. It is not cruel, but an important mechanism for the falcon to feed or do its job.
“You take the hood off and set them off on their prey,” described Imogen. “Then you chase them, but they won’t let go of the prey until you put the hood back on. This causes them to drop the prey and that’d be your dinner! It’s also where the term ‘hoodwinked’ came from.”
She went on to tell how many Old English phrases took on a completely different meaning in modern day.
“The term ‘fed up’ actually means when you feed your bird too much so they’re no longer interested in hunting,” she said. “Now it means when you’ve had enough of something!”
That led me to ask if the birds ever retire. By this time Imogen’s sweet mother Donna joins us. They told me in the wild the hawks do not necessarily retire. Instead they just fly off when it is their time. Their small family business attempts to keep the hawks in the natural habitat as much as possible.
“We make sure they’re exercised regularly and they live as close to the wild as possible,” said Imogen. “They’re not pets, but they wouldn’t survive in the wild. When I fly him I don’t say, ‘Rufus, you must do this and this.’ He just does as much as he wants. When he slows down a little that’s when I’ll phase him out. He’s almost 8 years old and they can live up to 25 years in captivity.”
Donna explained her husband Wayne always loved birds. He received his first Castrol bird when he was 10-years-old, which he trained, and the love took off from there. He went to college, but his heart belonged to the birds.
“When he saved enough money he started the business,” she said. “He knew there was a need for it and there was also an urban problem with pigeons. He called the local flower mill and suggested he come around to help with the pigeons. That’s when Westminster Abbey called us because they were having such a massive problem with the pigeons with the soft stone.”
Besides Westminster Abbey, the family’s hawks also help at landfills, industrial areas, food factories, and the stadium for the Northampton Saints rugby team.
She continued: “I called Wimbledon about the pigeons and the guy I spoke to asked where else do we work. I told him Westminster Abbey. He said a colleague of mine is the person that employed us. It made a massive difference!”
Unfortunately, Wayne suffered a stroke three years ago. He is much better now, but becomes too tired to fully work with his falcons. That is when Imogen stepped in.
“I worked freelance in the media after university,” she said. “I worked closely with him and after the stroke, since I freelanced, I could easily take over. I already knew everybody, too.”
Donna and Imogen said the family does not breed the birds because that is “almost a full time job in itself.” But now that Wayne is home full time it might be something he picks up. The family does not breed the birds, but work with another family. They also said females can perform Rufus’s job, but it is better situated for males.
“Females can be more high strung,” said Imogen. “Rufus is a little more relaxed.”
Wayne always owned males, but they believe one of the younger birds might be female. Behind Rufus are Castor and Pollux. Donna and Imogen said there is a strong possibility Castor is a female since she is a tad bigger. The bird just keeps on growing! In fact, a few days after the interview, I saw Donna with Castor. The bird was very good size despite being younger than Rufus. I noticed she moved her head faster than Rufus. Also, when a person walked behind the bird, Castor flapped her wings and let out a high pitched squawk.
Rufus is calm with other people. He had no problem coming over to my arm.
“They view us as one of them,” said Imogen. “Harris Hawks hunt in packs. One bird will identify the prey and the rest will dive in.”
It is a good thing he is so comfortable with people because he receives numerous requests for photos and interviews. He boasts 8,720 Twitter followers and almost 2,000 likes on Facebook. But that only seems reasonable since his job is so important. Rufus and Imogen often meet important visitors to the prestigious tournament such as the Duchess of Cornwall!
— Rufus The Hawk (@RufusTheHawk) July 2, 2015
Because of Rufus the players do not worry about birds interrupting them or grounds crew finding nests. More importantly, though, because of Rufus, Wimbledon enjoys the best lawns in tennis.