BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Early arrivals for the world championship diving are getting an odd treat this week: The chance to see eagles skimming over the azure water where divers will launch themselves from up to 10 meters.
The birds' mission: Patrol the airspace to keep away pesky seagulls and pigeons for the safety of the divers.
"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. Because the Montjuic Municipal pool is on a hill with a side that falls into the Mediterranean, seagulls have taken a particular liking to its convenient perches and inviting waters.
Martos said organizers of the world championships contacted the company he works for to clear the unwanted visitors.
Every day before and after the diving events, 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 also about safety, so the divers don't land on the birds.
"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 female birds, which are bigger and more aggressive. He has two eagles, "Loba" and "Duende", and a falcon called "Dorada." Martos said he selected these from the flock because "they are the calmest around people."
He blows a whistle to order them to turn, and a raised fist means to return to him.
He said he doesn't send them to kill the gulls and uses birds of prey as an alternative to poisoning or capturing birds that are considered a public nuisance.
"It's a non-violent way to keep them away," he said.