In this photograph taken on January 26, 2014, a dove freed by children during Pope Francis's Angelus prayer is attacked by a black crow in St Peter's Square at the Vatican. A hawk has been brought in to scare off crows and seagulls in future. File picture: Gregorio Borgia

Vatican City -

The Vatican has recruited an intrepid hawk to protect the pope's doves after two were killed in front of horrified crowds by a crow and seagull, a Catholic weekly reported.

The eagle-eyed bird of prey named “Sylvia”, who was specially trained for the task in northern Italy, has been taken on by the Swiss Guards, according to a report in Credere.

They hope the Harris Hawk, which can grow to have a wingspan of 120cm, will scare off predators looking to make a quick meal of any holy doves.

The doves are traditionally released from the Vatican a few times a year as signs of peace.

But when two children let fly the white-feathered birds from the window above St Peter's Square on January 26 this year, they were killed in a brutal mid-air attack.

The use of birds of prey to scare off unwanted pests is not new: they are often used at airports and football stadiums to get rid of pigeons and have even been deployed in Rome's Colosseum to preserve the monument.

Rome-based falconer Gabriele Siccardi said the new Vatican hawk may need to grow before it can take on large birds, based on photos published in the Italian press.

“It's a young one. I would say about a kilo. If it takes on a seagull, it's dead,” he said.

But Siccardi, who has previously had contracts to keep pigeons out of the Roman Forum and around the Vatican for the city council, said it would “easily” overcome a crow.

“What I would do is train it to intimidate the other birds, not to kill them. There won't be a lot of corpses in the Vatican,” he said. - Sapa-AFP