Wednesday, October 21, 2015

birds of London, part 2: working girls

Here in the UK, even as new buildings are springing up and globalisation takes root, city councils are finding that old ways can provide new solutions. As London sheds its industrial past and gets shinier and cleaner, flocks of pigeons can create a messy problem. The solution: hawks.

Pest control companies such as Van Vynck, Bird and Pest Solutions and Hawking Avian Solutions all offer falconers with working hawks as part of their service, keeping pigeons, seagulls and other flocking bird populations from overcrowding and polluting urban areas.

Gloria is one of many hawks who work throughout the city. The hawks are a humane solution - although they work frequently, they rarely kill any of the birds they are hired to control. Often the presence of the hawk is enough to keep the pigeons away. If the pigeon flock grows too large, the hawk flies a few passes and the flock scatters away from the area.

The most common pigeon chaser is the Harris Hawk, a mild-mannered species who is easy to train and isn't unsettled by human crowds. Gloria is a perfect example - her trainer even settled her on a rail overlooking the train station and dropped her leash, and she was content to just sit and bask in the attention of passersby. It helped that she had been fed earlier that day!

The falconers work with a wide range of sites and companies. Peregrines and Saker falcons chase gulls away from high-rises, and hawks are brought into commercial areas and flown in museum archives where rat poison or other forms of control aren't viable. The birds are even brought out as tourist attractions, for instance at the Eid festival celebrating the end of Ramadan in Trafalgar Square last July.

The Bleigiessen sculpture by Heatherwick Studio in the Wellcome Trust,
one of the clients of hawking pest control

Old ways find new purpose in London. Providing a place for tradition to thrive is another reason we'll never be bored in this 2000-year-old city. 

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