Mr Bell and Pluto: chasing pigeons at King’s Cross Station

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.

Photo licensed under Wikimedia Commons  CC BY-SA 3.0 

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.


27 thoughts on “Mr Bell and Pluto: chasing pigeons at King’s Cross Station

  1. What a interesting post. How brilliant to have the hawk in the station. It strikes me as wonderfully progressive. I think it would be only a few years ago that TPTB would have probably tried some noxious pesticide/hunt and kill method like killing rats. And the upgrade of the station is stunning.

    1. Thanks for your comments Alison. Yes, it’s very heartening to see progressive solutions – and being innovative in solving problem issues. Interesting to see how wildlife behaviour is evolving in urban space and our response to curbing issues.
      Yes ‘stunning’ is the word for that architectural design 🙂

  2. Brilliant solution to the pigeon problem. Apparently, peregrine falcons have increased in NYC, nesting on building ledges high above the streets and feeding on pigeons. I love when nature fixes our problems for free. Such an invaluable service!

    1. Yes, isn’t that neat 🙂 I’ve been reading about peregrine falcons adapting with ease into city spaces – even here in Cape Town. A good variety on the menu here as well. Clever birds.

  3. King’s Cross has changed a lot since I was last there! Used to be ‘my’ station for heading oop north 🙂
    I like the idea of the hawk. I have noticed here that when there is a hawk or buzzard in the vicinity all the crows and magpies get into a bit of a tizzy. And last year I actually saw a magpie trying to attack a young falcon in the hedgerow.

    1. 🙂 yes we too were heading oop north. The design really is striking, particularly the lighting – really quite incongruous to the setting.
      It’s interesting that raptors are returning to the landscape – all those Red Kites. It certainly sets a mood of sharp alertness 🙂

    1. Thanks Karen. I’ve been following the Trafalgar Square pigeon story for a while, and even Eaton Square. Some years ago i tried to plan a visit to see some of the action, but could never get the timing right. I staked out Eaton Square with my camera and long lens and a Bobby on the Beat came along and asked me to move along :)!

      1. Ah the hazards of our passion! Here you’d more likely be mugged and robbed of your equipment 🙂 Sad but true. They can be a bit OTT in the UK and the States sometimes 🙂

  4. I love a happy ending! And they have made a great job of King’s Cross and the surrounding area. Quite a while since I’ve used it but I would love to watch man and hawk operating. 🙂 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  5. My daughter was shocked to hear pigeon feeding has become a no-no in the cities. But then she’ll rather feed animals than humans. Egyptian geese also tend to take over areas with lakes

    1. That’s not to say that the laws are followed! Seagulls, pigeons….. they love to hang you where there is easy food. Egyptian geese! They get everywhere, and how have those hadedahs numbers snuck up so quickly?!

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