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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 January, 2005, 04:02 GMT
Hawks to protect Herculaneum
A Harris hawk perches on the hand of his falconer in the Herculaneum archaeological site near Pompeii and Naples
The hawks are back in town - to keep the pigeons at bay
Italy is taking action against pigeons whose acidic droppings are damaging ancient Roman ruins in Herculaneum.

Officials say the Roman-era town south of Naples has been besieged by flocks of the birds nesting in the remains.

Three Harris hawks - named Airon, Gari and Miura - are to be employed to persuade the pigeons to seek an alternative home.

The town of Herculaneum, along with its neighbour Pompeii, was buried by lava when Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD79.

"Pigeons represent a serious threat to the conservation of the area," the authority in charge of the site says on its website, explaining they have chosen to nest in the quietest corners of the site.

Perilous pecking

"The acidity of their droppings seriously damages the structures and the ancient decorated surfaces. They are constantly pecking at the wooden beams and the carbonised wooden fixtures," it adds.

The remaining wooden structures in Herculaneum are one of its distinguishing features as the extreme heat and fires generated by the volcanic eruption destroyed all the wood in neighbouring Pompeii.

The idea of using hawks to frighten away pigeons has already been used in airports in Italy.

Training the birds will be a delicate task as the hawks must be sufficiently well-fed so as not to attempt to eat the pigeons, but not so over-fed that they do not chase them away.

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