19 September 1997

Hamish the hawk says keep out

HEALTH and hygiene are of paramount importance particularly in the wake of the latest devastating food scares. The last thing welcome in a grain store is a bird.

Hamish the Harris hawk, however, is there by special invitation. His presence acts as a deterrent to other birds.

Rockingham Estates in Corby, Northamptonshire, is one of the growing number of companies employing Wayne Davis and his avian controllers to ensure prevention of bird and rodent contamination.

Within seconds of his release at the grain store Hamish alighted on the apex of the giant building. There was an instant commotion as feral pigeons abandoned their roost in a nearby copse. Hamish appeared not to notice, but his beady eyes missed nothing. His mission is not to kill – he prefers to eat day-old chicken, quail and rabbit – but to control the bird numbers.

Waynes Avian Control Systems use Harris hawks, peregrine falcons, African lanner falcons and the small merlin falcons. Light radio transmitters are attached to their tails while they work. If they go down to catch a rabbit in a cornfield Wayne needs to be able to find them.

Hamish is well travelled, albeit by car. He is on duty at Tilbury Docks when they load the holds; he patrols Westminster Abbey to deter the flocks of pigeons whose presence can damage the buildings, and the companys birds are on continuous duty at RAF Alconbury, Lakenheath, and Mildenhall. Their presence at the airfields is to prevent the serious risk of bird strike.

They are well used to people and are asked to corporate entertainment days to demonstrate their skills. They spend Sundays at Boughton House on behalf of the Living Landscape Trust.

The one time a falcon was lost he turned up on the roof of a school in Kings Lynn, Norfolk, screeching to the children in the playground below. He was easily lured by an RSPCA inspector and safely returned.

"We rear them especially for the job," says Wayne "and the training methods have not changed for over 500 years. What could be more environmentally sound?"

Liz Brailsford

It takes a bird to scare the birds:Hamish the Harris hawk and fellow raptors owned and worked by Wayne Davis (above) are much in demand these days.