BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Early arrivals for the world championship diving in Barcelona are getting an odd treat this week: the chance to see eagles skimming over the azure water where divers will later launch themselves from up to 10 meters.
The birds' mission: patrol the airspace to keep away pesky seagulls and pigeons.
"I begin early so that everything is clean and there are no seagulls," said falconer Oscar Martos, the man in charge of working the big, brown-feathered birds.
Like most cities, Barcelona has a pigeon problem. And because the Montjuic Municipal pool is on a hill whose opposite side falls into the Mediterranean, seagulls had taken a particular liking to its convenient perches and inviting waters.
Martos said that the organizers of the world championships contracted the company he works for to clear the unwanted visitors out in time for the competition.
Every day before and after the diving, Martos releases one of his birds to fly back and forth from his gloved fist to the light towers on the other side of the pool, with the majestic views of the Catalan capital fanning out below.
It's not just about keeping it clean, Martos said. It's about the safety of the divers.
"Seagulls are not afraid and can swoop down to get a drink or take a bath," he said. "If they do that when a diver is in the air it could be dangerous."
Martos is using three birds in turns so they don't get overworked. All are females because they are bigger and more aggressive, he said. He has two eagles, "Loba" and "Duende", and a falcon called "Dorada." Martos said he selected these from the company flock because "they are the calmest around people."
He controls their flight with whistle blows that order them to turn, and a raised fist meaning for them to come back to him.
He said he never sends them to kill seagulls and that using birds of prey is a good alternative to poison or capturing birds considered a public nuisance.
"It's a non-violent way to keep them away," he said.