The Birdman of the Boleyn

Jordan Warren and Harris hawk Tweed keep West Ham United's stadium pigeon-free
Next time you visit the Boleyn Ground, look upwards.

What can you see? The imposing roof? Giant posters of Sir Trevor Brooking and Billy Bonds MBE? A bright blue east London sky?

Hopefully, you will see all three of the above – plus eleven eagles running around on the pitch – but one thing you unlikely to cast your eye upon is a pigeon.

Every few days, Tweed the Harris hawk visits the home of West Ham United to keep it free of the birds, which can cause huge damage if they are allowed to nest and live inside buildings such as football stadia.

Nesting can cause blockages in guttering, with the resultant water penetration causing potentially serious structural damage.

Pigeon detritus and faeces represent both an aesthetic – pigeon droppings are notoriously difficult to remove from buildings – and public health problem, as they carry a range of serious human diseases.

As such, the work done by Tweed and his handler, 19-year-old Jordan Warren, is vital in maintaining the Boleyn Ground as a safe, clean and visually attractive environment for everyone who works in and visits the stadium.
It’s a nice way of controlling the pigeons and a nice job for Tweed
Family business Natures Way Pest Control, based in the Essex town of Grays, have been providing birds of prey to deter pigeons from entering football stadia and other buildings for nearly 25 years. Jordan himself has been visiting his favourite football team for the past three.

“Basically, we are here to remove pigeons from the site and to act as a deterrent,” he began. “This time of year, Tweed’s presence stops the pigeons from nesting because he builds up his territory, which makes the pigeons uncomfortable and keeps them off the place, which is our main goal.

“It’s a nice way of controlling the pigeons and a nice job for Tweed, because Harris hawks do not often get the chance to fly around an urban environment. Different things happen and he learns new things every day from the experience.

“We’ve had the contract with West Ham for near on 20 years now and I’ve been doing the job myself for three years. It’s a nice job for me too, because it’s different and it’s not something you do every day.

“The bird enjoys it and the people who come into the stadium while we are here enjoy it too. It’s a nice way of doing things.

“Julian Dicks came to see us today and was enthusiastic about it. He asked loads of questions and actually enquired about owning a hawk himself! It’s nice to share your knowledge help them to learn about it.

“My middle name is Julian, actually, as my Dad was a big fan when Dicksie was playing. He used to sit in the Chicken Run and love watching him put in all the big tackles!”
Come rain or shine he is out in all weathers, but it’s especially nice when it is clear and bright because he can fly around the stadium and enjoy the space
While Tweed is a Harris hawk and his natural instinct may be to catch the pigeons, he is trained to simply mark out his territory and keep them away instead.

He will fly to each part of the Boleyn Ground, showing off his fearsome beak and talons and his fantastic wingspan to any pigeon foolish enough to come near the place.

The pigeons themselves will quickly work out that the home of the Hammers is not the home for them and build their nests elsewhere.

“Basically it’s a territory thing,” Jordan explained. “He will land on certain areas and the pigeons will see him and think ‘Oh, what is he doing here? We don’t want to be living here and putting ourselves and our young in danger’ and that keeps them off the site.

“It’s ideal at the moment because it is the time of year when they are looking to nest and there are not a lot of birds here.

“Come rain or shine he is out in all weathers, but it’s especially nice when it is clear and bright because he can fly around the stadium and enjoy the space.”

While many people may be intimidated or even scared by a bird of prey such as a Harris hawk, teenager Jordan is completely relaxed around Tweed.

After the bird has visited each part of the Boleyn Ground, his handler collects Tweed on his leather glove and rewards him with a piece of food – a training protocol which helps to ensure he will always return.

Tweed also wears anklets and a leg bell to help Jordan to locate him should the hawk go missing while out working, while a tiny transmitter is fitted to enable him to find the bird electronically should he get lost or choose to fly away.

To Jordan’s credit, Tweed is a loyal friend.

“They are quite a relaxed bird and are easy to train,” Jordan explained. “They have a lot of trust in us and, once you have built up a relationship with the bird, they want to be with you all the time. This works well for us, because we’re not losing any birds.

“You build up a relationship with the bird as you would with a dog, really. You build them up as a pet and as a friend and you get to know each other’s personalities and then it’s easy to work together.

“We use telemetry on them, which gives us their whereabouts and we can track them down and find out where they have gone.”
Boleyn Ground is not the only football stadium served by Natures Way Pest Control, who also provide bird-proofing, rat, mice, insect and vermin control services.

Jordan’s family and other colleagues – human and birds of prey – are also regular visitors to Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium and Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Molineux.

“My Dad started the business back in the 1980s and we’ve been doing this as a family ever since,” Jordan explained. “We have picked up a few more jobs and it has got better and better.

“We do Molineux and the Emirates at the moment and have done other stadia in the past. It’s not just football grounds, though, as we can work in any sort of building as long as it is not too enclosed and doesn’t contain machinery that is potentially dangerous for the bird.

“We work in a lot of office buildings, factories and warehouses, all sorts of everything, really! We go down to the south coast, up to the Midlands and across London and the South East, so we’re all over the place.

“It would be fantastic to work at the Olympic Stadium if we could get that contract in the future – that would be the icing on the cake and a nice thing for the business.”