By MADDY VITALE
The summer looks a bit different this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Rides, amusements and outdoor dining just recently reopened, and social distancing is the constant rule to follow.
For seagulls, social distancing is not a choice — it is a strictly enforced rule — as long as “Lilly” the hawk is around. Other trained raptors, including falcons and an owl, are also keeping the gulls away from Boardwalk strollers and beachgoers who simply want to enjoy some good food.
Falconer P.J. Simonis, of Wildlife Control Specialists LLC, called out to Lilly with a few chirps of a whistle.
Immediately, he sent her off into the skies Thursday to patrol the area and make sure seagulls don’t snatch pizza, fries and other foods from tourists.
Simonis is one of the falconers who work in shifts throughout the day and night to make sure the gulls hunt for their own food – not off a tourist’s plate.
“It’s going really well,” Simonis said of the program’s results so far this summer.
Ocean City Public Information Officer Doug Bergen said Sunday that the seagull-abatement program is definitely working.
“So far this summer, the program has been remarkably effective — especially given the restrictions that require all dining on the Boardwalk to be outdoors,” Bergen noted. “The raptors allow Boardwalk visitors to eat in peace and safety.”
Ocean City is believed to be the first resort community on the East Coast to use raptors to cut down on pesky seagulls and their unwanted visits. Typically, in the past, the gulls would pick “hot spots” on the rooftops of Boardwalk eateries and beach umbrellas to spot a family’s picnic-style lunches.
Last summer was the first time the city used the program. It was so successful, city officials decided to bring it back again.
Wildlife Control Specialists, out of Lebanon, N.J., was awarded a $193,600 contract with Ocean City earlier this year. The contract recently was increased to $205,600 to reflect additional work done by the company.
Company owner Joe Kosakowski, Simonis and other members of the team began the 2020 season in May.
In addition to Lilly the hawk, there are trained hawks, falcons and an owl that chase away seagulls, but do not harm them, Kosakowski said in a prior interview with OCNJDaily.com.
It is clear by the Boardwalk storefronts that the raptors are doing their job. Before Ocean City contracted for a bird-abatement program, seagulls steadily began to take over the Boardwalk scene, perching themselves in a row along the rooftops of the restaurants reminiscent of a scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, “The Birds”
While the seagulls are still present, they are flying above the action – keeping their distance from the raptors.
Mayor Jay Gillian and Business Administrator George Savastano looked for a creative way to cut down on the number of seagulls disturbing Boardwalk patrons and beachgoers. So the raptors were brought in.
Wildlife Control Specialists began flying the birds on the weekends in May through June 15 and then switched to seven days a week through Labor Day. After Labor Day, the raptors will be in town on weekends until mid-October before stopping for the year. They will be on duty from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.