Wimbledon pigeon-scaring hawk stolen

Rufus the hawk, on Centre Court with handler Imogen Davies Rufus the hawk was pictured on Centre Court with handler Imogen Davies the day before he was stolen

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A hawk used to scare pigeons away at Wimbledon's tennis championships has been stolen.

Police said the bird, named Rufus, was stolen with his cage overnight on Thursday.

The bird was in a car parked on a private drive in Dunstall Road, Wimbledon, with the rear window open for ventilation.

Officers said Rufus was a family pet and described his owners as very "distressed" over the theft.

Police said the working bird of prey deters pigeons by its presence at the All England Lawn Tennis Club.

A spokesman said that one of Rufus's "pals", Hector, had been drafted in so there was no increased risk of pigeons becoming a nuisance on Centre Court.

Avian celebrity

Rufus, a harris hawk, is something of a Wimbledon fixture with his own Facebook page and Twitter account with 257 followers.

Owner and handler Imogen Davies, of Avian Environmental Consultants, which supplies birds of prey to control birds, said: "It's hard to get your head around. We just want to know he's ok."

She said the four-year-old bird had been left in the car as Ms Davies was based in Corby, Northamptonshire, and needed to start work with Rufus at the All England Club at 05:30 BST every morning.

She said it was the first year she had stayed in Wimbledon instead of commuting each day.

"I thought it was something that was going to be fine for him and secure. If I could change something I would. If I could, I would have put him next to my bed."

She said a falconry glove and hood were also stolen but expensive radio scanning equipment used to track him and binoculars were left behind.

Asked about the value of the bird, she said: "It would cost about £250 to buy a bird like Rufus but you couldn't put a value on him to us."

She said the roof of Centre Court was particularly appealing to pigeons but Rufus's presence immediately scared the birds away and stopped them roosting.

Rufus usually patrols between 05:30 and 09:00 BST before the public arrives.

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