Falconer David Bishop says his harris hawks are ‘perfectly designed’ for pest control in the capital
He is every pigeon’s worst nightmare with his fearsome talons and streamlined hunter’s wings, but Emu the hawk has many a fan among Westminster’s residents.
He is every pigeon’s worst nightmare with his fearsome talons and streamlined hunter’s wings, but Emu the hawk has many a fan among Westminster’s residents and, it seems, among representatives of the world’s media.
The nine-year-old male harris hawk and a female counterpart called Lizzy have become quite a sensation, achieving the ornithological equivalent of cult celebrity status.
The birds of prey regularly take to the skies of Westminster to scare off vermin in some of the most well-heeled addresses in town.
Such is the media interest now focusing on the birds, some reporters will have to wait for an interview slot before meeting the hawks.
Falconer David Bishop works with the birds for Van Vynck Environmental, a job he loves even though it means he works anti-social hours (be prepared to wake up at the crack of dawn if you want to see the birds in action).
“I’ve done falconry all my life,” says Mr Bishop, whose passion for predatory birds took root during his youth in the Hertfordshire countryside. “I got my first little kestrel when I was 11.
“It was different then. You had to apply to the Home Office for a licence and I believe they thought I was mad because I sent a handwritten letter just saying please can I have a licence because I want to keep hawks.”
The natural environment of the harris hawk, a species Mr Bishop says is perfectly adapted for pest control work, is the desert of Arizona – a world away from Eaton Square, Belgravia, where they can be seen whizzing through the air in the early morning – and the creatures form strong bonds with their handlers.
Mr Bishop says: “If you had an A4 bit of paper and you gave yourself a wish list of what you would want a bird to do for this type of job, the little harris hawks would tick every box. They’re sort of perfectly designed for the job.
“In the wild they’re gregarious. They’re the only bird of prey that operates as a family group. They end up building quite a close bond with the falconer as they look at you as being part of that hunting group in a way. Most other birds of prey are solitary hunters, so they’re a lot more independent of the falconer. Working in towns, you want something that is more likely to be with you. They are the right sort of size for deterring pigeons and are quite amicable. They tend to put up with a lot other birds wouldn’t. He’s sat on buses before and didn’t mind.”
Emu typically patrols Eaton Square, which he considers part of his territory, for up to two hours daily. He also works at sites in Exhibition Road and certain government locations that Mr Bishop is loathe to make public.
The use of falcons to deter pigeons in Westminster was made famous during Ken Livingstone’s first stint as mayor, when he enlisted their help to clear the “flying rats” from Trafalgar Square.