We’ve had some shocks to absorb this year, top players vanishing over the horizon and all that, but nothing to match the consternation and ruffled feathers of 12 months ago – to the very day – when Rufus the Harris Hawk disappeared.
Rufus – for those who are not familiar with this important member of the Wimbledon family – is a key contributor to the immaculate organisation of the Championships. As a woodland hawk, he is suited to weaving in and out of the courts to flush out pesky pigeons. He’s particularly agile at clearing the spaces up in Centre Court’s retractable roof, which apparently represents a five star luxury pigeon loft. He is not only efficient about his business, arriving conscientiously early at 6am each day with his own security photocard pass (job title: Bird Scarer), he also enjoys star status with a personal retinue, a twitter account (@RufusTheHawk) and a vociferous fan club.
A sighting of Rufus on his handler’s cuffed gloved inspires more adoring shrieks than Grigor Dimitrov. He’s a handsome bird with a striking yellow beak, intelligent eyes, dark brown plumage, chestnut shoulders, wing linings and thighs, and white on the base of the tip of his tail. And he goes about his task with swagger. So, the dismay was widespread when news broke last year that he had been stolen from a car parked for the night at a private Wimbledon address. Fortunately, the perpetrator realised that the global outcry emanating from SW19 meant Rufus was near impossible to flog, and left him unharmed where he could be found three days later and returned to relieved handler Imogen Davies.
Understandably, given the memories of that original 999 alert, Merton Police were the first to hunt him out on Day One. ‘Remember rufus the hawk from last year’s Championships? We saw him this morning. You’ll be pleased to know he’s looking well’, they tweeted.
The experience of being a victim of crime has clearly left Rufus determined to ‘carpe diem’, ie ‘seize the day’, as well as his contracted duty to ‘carpe pipionem’. (That’s Latin for pigeon. You can tell it’s a rain-prevents-play day.)
From the minute his twitter feed chwirked off (and yes, that’s the correct ornithological term for a hawk’s sound) with ‘3,2,1... And we’re off #Wimbledon2013’, he’s been a busy old bird. He’s received countdown time tweets from Los Angeles (‘Rufus is at work at Wimbledon. Summer starts soon’), well wishes from kindred spirits at the Hawk-Eye technological team, suggestions for a Rufuscam, secret messages from Australian and South African fans and jokes about his love of the camera.
In return – after his daily 6am to 10am circling action – Rufus has provided a bird’s-eye view of Centre Court first thing in the morning (chilly!), expressed sympathy with the Rafa Nadal fan club, posted lovely pictures of SW19 at dawn, met Hacker the Dog from BBC children’s television and given countless interviews to TV and radio reporters. His handler, Imogen, describes him as ‘very responsive, very trusting, a great ‘people bird’. He’s come to be as associated with Wimbledon as Pimm’s and strawberries and cream.
So, thank goodness, its business as usual for Rufus.