Photo Jay Caboz.
Mort is part of a ‘raptor force’ led by Hank Chalmers, the founder of Eagle Encounters, a birds of prey rescue and rehabilitation centre on the Spier Wine Farm, in Stellenbosch. Photo Jay Caboz.
  • Morticia the Harris Hawk is one of the most unlikely employees you’ll ever see at the Cape Town Stadium.
  • The humble pigeon, that makes its home roosting in the eaves of the stadium, is proving a real challenge as not only are they messy nesters, but they also have a bad habit of pooping on chairs.
  • Since Morticia has been scaring the living bejesus out of the pigeons, the stadium saves as much as R100 000 a year just on clean up duty.
  • She is part of a ‘raptor force’ led by Hank Chalmers, the founder of Eagle Encounters, a birds of prey rescue and rehabilitation centre on the Spier Wine Farm, in Stellenbosch.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za. 

Morticia the Harris Hawk is one of the most unlikely employees you’ll ever meet at the Cape Town Stadium. But, with a stern look and razor-sharp claws, she's making an impact - intimidating a nuisance that is costing a lot of money to clean up after.  

Photo Jay Caboz.
Morticia the Harris Hawk is one of the most unlikely employees you’ll ever see at the Cape Town Stadium. Photo Jay Caboz.

The humble pigeon, that makes its home roosting in the eaves of the stadium, is proving a real challenge as not only are they messy nesters, but they also have a bad habit of pooping on chairs, which can take a lot of effort, and money, to clean up before a major event.

“To just clean the top level all of those stands before an event, it would take a group of 20 people 3 days, costing us about R22 000 a shot, to clean it,” said Lesley de Reuck, CEO of the Cape Town Stadium.

Photo Jay Caboz.
The humble pigeon, that makes its home roosting in the eaves of the stadium, is proving a real nuisance as not only are they messy nesters, but they also have a bad habit of pooping on chairs. Photo Jay Caboz.

The pigeons also have a penchant for eating the stadiums rye grass-seed destined to be trod on by footballers and rugby players. At one point the problem was so bad, de Reuck says they could eat as much as 70% of the seed laid on the pitch. 

“After an event, like a concert, when there is a stage on the pitch, invariably there are patches of the pitch that need re-growing. Then it’s a focused area which is an even bigger problem because then the birds tend to concentrate in that one spot,” said de Reuck.

Morticia is scaring the living bejesus out of the pigeons and proving a sound solution to the seed thievery and pooping problems. Photo Jay Caboz.
Photo Jay Caboz.
The impact has even seen the stadium save as much as R100 000 a year just on clean up duty. Photo Jay Caboz.

Since Morticia started scaring the living bejesus out of the pigeons the stadium saves as much as R100 000 a year, just on clean up duty.

‘Mort’ is part of Falcon Bird Pest Control, a raptor force owned by falconer Hank Chalmers, the founder of Eagle Encounters, a rescue and rehabilitation centre on the Spier Wine Farm, in Stellenbosch.

Deploying the birds, rather than killing the pigeons using poisons, all forms part of the stadiums’ plan to incorporate eco-friendly solutions. Photo Jay Caboz.

“You’ll see the pigeons react almost immediately. They stick their necks up high and then you know they’re on alert and have seen the working birds,” said Chalmers as he lovingly strokes the massive bird of prey on his arm like a pet dog.

All of the birds are domestically bred, company-owned and specifically trained as working birds. 

Photo Jay Caboz.
While using birds to get rid of pests in South Africa might seem like a foreign idea, Chalmers says that it is a common practice in other stadiums around the world. Photo Jay Caboz.

The birds are accustomed to flying in urban and working environments – and are undisturbed by the presence of the public, machinery or vehicles. They've chased pigeons, geese and other pests out of the Cape Town International Convention Centre, Boschenmeer and Pearl Valley Golf Courses, and Cavendish Square.

Mort and her fellow working birds are flown under supervision in and around the buildings at night.

Photo Jay Caboz.
The experienced falconer has been working with Morticia for almost 15 years. Photo Jay Caboz.

The aim is to scare the "pest" birds during their roosting time, which then unsettles them and encourages them to move elsewhere, explains Chalmers. 

While using birds to get rid of pests in South Africa might seem like a foreign idea, Chalmers says that it is a common practice in other stadiums, and even airports, around the world. The experienced falconer has been working with Morticia for almost 15 years.

Photo Jay Caboz.
The birds are accustomed to flying in urban and working environments. Photo Jay Caboz.

“Mort is looking a bit ruffled. You see she’s moulting and not looking her best. She’s actually quite a celebrity, she’s starred in quite a few commercials you know,” as Mort ghosts majestically throught the air to plop onto the centre pitch. 

Before going out on a job, Chalmers says the birds can only fly when they are light enough which requires monitoring their weight and how much they eat.

“We don’t actually want the birds of prey to catch them, we want them to live to tell the tale to the other birds in the area,” said Chalmers.

They have been chasing pigeons, geese and other unwanted avian out of premises like the Cape Town International Convention Centre, Boschenmeer and Pearl Valley Golf Courses and Cavendish Square. Photo Jay Caboz.

Deploying the birds, rather than killing the pigeons using poison, all forms part of the stadiums’ plan to incorporate eco-friendly solutions.

“Raptor bird pest control and using the techniques of falconry has been found to be the most effective and humane way of relocating problem bird species by making use of the natural instincts imprinted into wild birds before they hatch,” said de Reuck.

Photo Jay Caboz.
Mort is a bit of a show bird, having starred in a number of commercials. Photo Jay Caboz.

Among some of the other interventions include turning down water pressure to taps, using harvested water to do major cleaning in the stadium, and using energy saving light bulbs.

And with a busy schedule of events coming up, with both PSL and rugby, there may be a lot more work for Morticia and her feathered friends.

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