06/30/2012 11:18 EDT | Updated 08/30/2012 05:12 EDT

UK police: hawk used to patrol skies and scare pigeons away from Wimbledon is stolen

LONDON - A hawk being used to patrol skies and deter pigeons from the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships has been stolen, police said Saturday.

Rufus, a Harris hawk, was stolen with its cage between Thursday night and Friday morning from a car parked on a private driveway in the southwestern suburb of Wimbledon, said London's Metropolitan police.

The company that owns the hawk had left a rear window of the car open for ventilation, according to police.

The hawk, a family pet, flies above the tennis lawns every day, scaring away smaller birds such as pigeons that could distract the players and bother the audience.

Police said the family is "very distressed" about the theft of the 4 1/2-year-old hawk, which is trained not to attack but to circle the courts to scare off smaller birds.

Hawks have been used to clear the skies above Wimbledon during the tournament for about 12 years, as an environmentally friendly form of pest control.

Rufus would fly above the courts every morning and evening during the annual two-week tournament. He did not fly during matches because that could distract players.