Wimbledon starts today – and one of the tournament’s biggest names is looking forward to spending a lot of time above the courts rather than on them.
Rufus the hawk, from Brigstock, has become a familiar sight at the world’s most famous tennis tournament in recent years and has become something of a celebrity, with more than 7,000 followers on Twitter.
He is used by the All England Tennis Club to keep the courts free from pigeons.
His handler is Imogen Davis, of Avian Environmental in Brigstock.
Speaking to the Northants Telegraph after last year’s tournament, which was won by Novak Djokovic, she said: “Rufus is a lovely character, he’s very friendly and is happy to be passed from hand to hand for photos.
“He goes to Wimbledon all year round so it is his playground and he sees it at its busiest and its quietest times.”
Family firm Avian Environmental has been keeping the courts of Wimbledon pigeon-free since 1999.
It also helps control birds at the Royal Marsden Hospital and Westminster Abbey as well as Northampton Saints ground.
Imogen said: “We’re getting busier as people are starting to learn that it’s not good to eradicate an entire species.
“Using birds is an environmentally friendly way of controlling pests, it’s nature at its best.
“We have eight birds so we can tailor our services to different purposes.”
Although Rufus and Imogen do their work before play gets under way they did get to meet Andy Murray last year.
Imogen said: “He’s so lovely, it was really sad how he went out.”
Avian Environmental got the contract to keep Wimbledon pigeon-free after Imogen’s mum gave them a call.
Imogen said: “My mum was watching Tim Henman against Pete Sampras and they had to keep batting the pigeons away from the baseline, which was interrupting the points and not what the players wanted.
“She gave them a call and went along to give a demonstration and we’ve been to 14 or 15 championships since.
“Grass seed is like caviar to pigeons and they’re not fazed by humans so we go along to stop them from roosting because once one starts to roost somewhere you get lots.”