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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 June, 2004, 23:05 GMT 00:05 UK
Bird expert who wings in for Wimbledon
By Bill Wilson
BBC News Online business reporter

Mr Davis with his Harris Hawk at Wimbledon's Centre Court
Mr Davis has been keeping birds of prey since he was 11

When top tennis names such as Tim Henman take to the Centre Court at Wimbledon they may not know it, but a big-beaked bird has been working behind the scenes to make sure their big serves go smoothly.

For years stray pigeons fluttered on to the All England Club's prestige court at major moments, distracting players when they were about to send in a service.

Step forward falconer Wayne Davis, who thanks to his Harris hawk has ensured that Tim, Serena, Venus and other stars can concentrate fully on the game at hand.

His firm, Avian Control Systems, has been in business for 13 years, keeping pigeons off factories, landfill sites, hospitals, and other places of work that might be plagued by birds.

He also keeps unwanted visitors away from airfields to prevent costly bird-strikes, but his three biggest-profile contracts are at Westminster Abbey, the Millennium Dome site, and Wimbledon.

'Unique job'

As tennis-lovers eat their strawberries they may be unaware of a dark brown presence swooping overhead - Mr Davis' hawk scaring away pigeons from the grounds.

The 39-year-old said: "My job at Wimbledon is a unique one, and it all came about because of my wife.

High-profile jobs
Westminster Abbey
Millennium Dome
RAF Mildenhall
RAF Lakenheath

"She was watching the tournament on television and saw games being disrupted by pigeons.

"So she got in touch with the Wimbledon organisers and they liked her idea of bringing in one of my birds to keep pigeons away."

A phone call from the All England Club to Mr Davis followed, asking him to come down for an interview which led to his unusual job.

'Flying deterrent'

Pigeons even managed to disrupt the men's doubles final back in 1968, and are not frightened by officials and players, which is where the Harris hawk comes in.

Although Wimbledon is becoming more high-tech, with giant screens and other innovations, the most effective, and humane, solution to the problem of pigeons is a low-tech predator with a four-feet wingspan.

"My bird is flown around the Wimbledon complex early in the morning on three days a week during the tournament.

The Wiliams' sisters in Wimbledon 2003 women's singles final on Centre Court
Centre Court for the 2003 women's final and not a pigeon in sight

"It has to be done when there are not many people about, and the hawk has to be 'off-court' before midday when play starts on the outer courts, " says Mr Davis.

"He does not kill pigeons but his presence is enough to frighten them away. It is a deterrent, and an environmentally friendly and unobtrusive way to keep the courts clear.

"I actually visit the site once a week right round the year, as the pigeons do not register the hawk's presence in their memories for very long and it needs a regular presence to keep them away.

"Sometimes people find it hard to believe when I tell them I work at Wimbledon. I get to see some of the star names, but am too busy with my work to watch much of the tennis."

Pigeon droppings, containing high levels of ammonia, can also ruin the Wimbledon lawns.

Aircraft strike

It is for these chemical reasons that Mr Davis also has a contract at historic Westminster Abbey.

"I visit there on a weekly basis, because the building is made of limestone and when the birds roost in high nooks and crannies, their droppings can corrode the stone, " he said.

It is enjoyable to see my birds grow from juveniles to maturity and working in harmony with them
Wayne Davis, Avian Control Systems

Other high profile jobs are at RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath, where he makes frequent patrols to ensure birds like rooks, gulls and lapwings are kept away.

If a bird is sucked into an aircraft engine it can cause serious and costly damage to the craft.

Ornithology interest

Mr Davis first became interested in birds as a child, when his father would take him to reservoirs and other nature spots in Northamptonshire.

At 11 he got his first kestrel, and since then has owned peregrine falcons, Harris hawks, merlins, lanners, and sakers.

"I kept up my interest in ornithology as I got older, and bought a peregrine falcon, and then a desert falcon.

Millennium Dome: One of Mr Davis' birds keeps an eye out for pigeons

"Living in an industrial town I noticed there was an opportunity to turn my interest into a career, with the need to keep birds away from factories and other premises.

"As well as the hygiene aspect of bird droppings, they can make work surfaces slippery and dangerous.

"And if you get huge flocks of birds around workplaces it can also sometimes reduce visibility, which can be dangerous at times."

'Very fortunate'

His company Avian Control Systems was formed in 1991, and has secured numerous contracts for his winged team.

It includes work at a cement works, flour mill, and the Weetabix factory in Northamptonshire.

He also patrols the Millennium Dome site at Greenwich and nearby futuristic railway station.

Mr Davis said: "After more than a decade I could not see myself doing any other type of work."

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06 Jan 04  |  Tennis

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