Density of population hits one in the commuting hubs of London and King’s Cross Station is one of the country’s busiest (an estimated 50 million passengers pass through in a year). In this crazy hurly-burly of people dashing this way and that, few are aware of the activity taking place in the aerial space where the roof is held up by an elegant diagrid shell structure with a glow of softly backlit colours.
The station went through an ambitious upgrade, taking five years to complete, and reopening in 2012. This once unloved historic rail terminus has been transformed into a dynamic transport hub. The mezzanine floor has coffee shops and fast food cafes adding an attractive appeal for the feral pigeon cappuccino set and it is here that they vie for supremacy. With cushy ledges for roosting and the lure of cafe foraging, the birds take the gap.
But wait! Meet Pluto, the Harris Hawk and his handler, Max Bell who are tasked with keeping the station clear of these opportunists. Pluto, like a silent stalker glides on the wing keeping supremacy of airspace. Max explains that the tactic is to scare off the pigeons and not to hunt or kill them. As Pluto flies to a distant ledge Max keeps tabs on his whereabouts and on cue the hawk returns to be hand fed. Outside the station a different status occurs and Pluto attracts immediate attention from the ever vigilant bullish seagulls. At once they swoop down in mob formation, but he easily evades their tactics and flies back to Max. There is a caginess about the bird, alert – all muscle. Max describes his role in rearing and training raptors explaining the reward system in controlling the birds. He has five – three Harris and two Sparrow hawks. The latter are more suitable for scaring magpies and blackbirds. Generally he flies them for two hourly stretches and that’s sufficient to keep an area clear a couple of times a week.
My interest in urban human/ wildlife conflict solutions stems from a time going back ten years to when there was an influx of baboons foraging in residential areas on the Cape Peninsula and I volunteered to help in my neighbourhood spreading conservation awareness and trying to instill in the residents the need to be mindful of all the attractants which enticed the baboons into the urban space. And still there would be residents who would carelessly leave refuse bins unsecured and even those who continued to feed them.
Meanwhile the pigeons round King’s Cross have taken to greener pastures where people are permitted to feed them, St James Park or Regent’s Park for instance and there this act of giving to wildlife takes on a great delight in those who participate.