By MADDY VITALE
There was one thing that was business as usual this summer despite the COVID-19 pandemic – birds of prey really do rid seagulls from the Boardwalk, beaches and downtown – at least in Ocean City.
East Coast Falcons owner Erik Swanson explained that he and his team of falconers took to the Boardwalk, the beaches and also to downtown Ocean City to ward off the gulls using highly trained birds, including four Harris’s hawks, four falcons and an owl.
“This year, we had a lot of outdoor dining in the downtown all the way up to the Boardwalk,” Swanson said in an interview Saturday. “We chased the seagulls out.”
Monday is the last day for the falconers to scare off the gulls for the season.
This was the second year East Coast Falcons was hired by Ocean City to do bird abatement. The first year they were lauded by city officials and Boardwalk strollers and beachgoers for the work to ameliorate the gull problem. It was the first time Ocean City experimented with trained raptors to harass the seagulls.
Almost immediately, the gulls simply vanished, driven back to the ocean and bays that serve as their natural habitat rather than hanging out in Ocean City’s popular tourist areas to snatch some human food.
Initially for the summer of 2020, another company that was the lowest bidder was hired for the seagull abatement program, but city officials were dissatisfied with that firm’s work and then re-hired East Coast Falcons in late summer to take over.
Since then, Swanson noted that things have gone pretty well.
“It took us about a week or two to straighten things out,” he said of the gull problem. “The birds were out of control.”
At the same time that there were more gulls swooping down for quick, easy meals from unsuspecting people, dredging operations for a beach replenishment project were also going on, which churned up meals for the seagulls.
“The workers doing the dredging didn’t complain much, but the dredging was bringing more gulls,” Swanson said.
“It took about a week or two to set the ground rules for the gulls,” Swanson said. “We have 30 years of experience with birds. I tell my guys, ‘You don’t just walk onto the Boardwalk or the beach and have the birds understand what to do. You have to train them.’”
No gulls are harmed in the bird abatement, only chased away from the area, he explained.
The goal is to allow residents and vacationers to enjoy their time at the shore, while seagulls revert back to doing what they are supposed to do — hunt for their own food.
Swanson said Harris’s hawks are often used to ward off the gulls. However, if there is a large number of seagulls, he will bring in a falcon.
By 8 p.m. on Monday the falconers will officially be done for the season.
“There’s really no more gulls left – most have migrated now,” Swanson explained.
Swanson and his team of falconers hope to return to Ocean City for the summer season of 2021. It is a community he has grown fond of.
“There’s just a good vibe here,” he said.