By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
For three straight summers, East Coast Falcons has used its trained birds of prey to chase pesky, food-aggressive seagulls away from the beaches, Boardwalk and other spots in town popular with Ocean City’s tourists.
Now, the company that serves as the city’s seagull-control contractor will turn its attention toward another pest – rats.
The company’s falcons, hawks and an owl that are used to harass seagulls will not be called into action to hunt down rats. Instead, the company will set live traps to catch the rodents and then they will be euthanized, East Coast Falcons owner Erik Swanson said.
East Coast Falcons will concentrate on getting rid of the rodents in the south end of town from 50th Street to 59th Street, Swanson said. The rat population appears to be small thus far, he noted.
“For whatever reason, the rats were in the neighborhood and the neighbors cried out for help,” Swanson said in an interview Friday.
The company started two days ago and will continue its work until it appears the rats are gone. Swanson, an animal-control expert, will also help the neighbors secure their trash cans to prevent the rodents from foraging in their yards.
Swanson said some of the steps that homeowners can take are as simple as making sure that the trash can lids are tightly fastened to prevent rats from getting inside. He also suggested that homeowners switch to sturdier metal trash cans instead of using plastic ones.
Swanson’s birds of prey are capable of hunting rats. However, he noted that the neighbors have been using rat poison to try to kill the rodents. The presence of poison makes it too dangerous for his birds, he said.
Ocean City’s highly publicized hiring of a company that flies falcons, hawks and an owl around the island to frighten the gulls is believed to be the first of its kind for a town at the Jersey Shore.
The arrival of the raptors starting in the summer of 2019 is part of Mayor Jay Gillian’s plan to rid the beaches, Boardwalk and other parts of the city of the swarms of hungry gulls that have been menacing residents and tourists alike for their food.
City officials made the decision to hire East Coast Falcons after hearing numerous complaints from tourists and local residents about hyper-aggressive gulls swooping down to snatch an easy meal right out of people’s hands.
The city has repeatedly said that the bird-abatement program has been overwhelmingly successful in driving the gulls back to their natural habitat in the ocean and bays.
Now in its third summer as the city’s seagull-control contractor, East Coast Falcons will wrap up its work for the year on Columbus Day weekend in October.
City Business Administrator George Savastano first reported during a City Council meeting Thursday night that East Coast Falcons will team up with Ocean City to help solve the rodent problem in the south end.
“It’s a good example of a public-private partnership to proactively address a local concern,” city spokesman Doug Bergen said.
Exactly why the rats have begun showing up now in the south end isn’t clear. Swanson said that they “just moved in.”
During his report to Council, Savastano said state Assemblyman Antwan McClellan, who lives in Ocean City, will be in contact with New Jersey officials to see if Corson’s Inlet State Park in the southern tip of the island could be contributing to the rodent problem.