Alpha soars between the Kremlin’s golden domes, sowing panic among crows perched in nearby trees. The goshawk is one of a dozen birds of prey protecting President Vladimir Putin’s seat of power in Moscow.
Crows congregate in the Tainitsky Garden inside the red-brick Kremlin walls, croaking as they perch on trees and wheel in the sky.
But just the sight of Alpha, a 20-year-old female goshawk with silver-gray feathers, and her colleague Filya, an imposing eagle-owl, makes them scarper in a few minutes.
“The aim isn’t to get rid of all the crows but to scare them and get them to go away, so that they don’t set up home here and build nests,” said 28-year-old Alexei Vlasov, one of the camouflage-clad falconers of the Kremlin ornithological service.
This special unit, set up in 1984, has around a dozen birds, including goshawks and a peregrine falcon.
It is part of the Federal Guard Service.
The raptor’s job is to protect the Kremlin, one of the oldest mediaeval fortresses in Europe that has served as the seat of tsars, Soviet leaders and now Russian presidents and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Crows can “transmit a whole number of illnesses that are potentially dangerous to human health and damage the gold domes by scratching them and leaving droppings on them,” said Vlasov as he held golden-eyed Alpha with a gauntleted hand.
A rapid call came from her blood-stained beak.
Vlasov added that crows can also be “troublemakers and aggressive” in their interaction with humans.
Birds such as pigeons, crows and ravens sometimes cause problems in the Russian capital, whether pecking at flower beds or coating historic buildings with droppings.
For the Kremlin guards, it is easier to make them go away than to clean up after them.
– ‘Waste of ammunition’
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