By MADDY VITALE
Angelina Caselli took a little break with her falcon, Clementine, from the Ocean City Boardwalk seagull patrol she often takes on her daily duties in the world of falconry. The goal each day is to chase away the nuisance shore birds from snatching food being eaten by tourists.
Caselli, of East Coast Falcons, was joined by fellow falconer and co-worker, Bill Brown, who had with him Marco, a Harris’s Hawk.
The two colleagues, whose jobs are anything but ordinary, exchanged some friendly, rather ordinary pleasantries from the heat and humidity to the approaching end of summer, before they were ready to continue their shifts to make the days of the throngs of tourists and residents alike a little better.
“This year was no harder than any other, but we did more downtown patrols and were able to take care of the seagulls down there more,” said Caselli, who has been with the company for three years.
Caselli was referring to the falconers expanding to other parts of the island. When East Coast Falcons owned by Erik Swanson, first began bird abatement in Ocean City in 2019, the primary focus was the Boardwalk and the beaches.
Since then, Swanson and city officials have developed a broader strategy to rid the gulls not just from Boardwalk eateries and beach picnics, but also the downtown shopping district and eateries in other areas of the island as well.
Caselli and Brown said they noticed over the past year that the gulls seemed to be reverting back to what they are supposed to do – hunt for their own food.
“I saw the gulls eating a fish,” noted Brown, who is in his first year with the company. “That’s really what we want to see.”
In 2019, Mayor Jay Gillian and the city administration hired East Coast Falcons after receiving numerous complaints about aggressive gulls menacing people for their food. In 2020, the city hired another contractor, but returned to East Coast Falcons within the same year and they have continued to deliver on quelling the gull problems every summer season, officials said.
“It’s been a great success for public safety and the fact that the seagulls are going back to feeding off their own natural food source is another win,” Gillian said Saturday.
In January, the city awarded a $316,920 contract for 2023 to East Coast Falcons, a New Jersey-based, bird-abatement company. The contract includes options for 2024 and 2025. East Coast Falcons was the sole bidder for the contract.
The gull abatement program begins each year around the second week of May and extends through Columbus Day weekend, with the falconers working on weekends only after Labor Day.
Swanson said in an interview in January that the plan was to have full-time and part-time handlers of the birds. There would also be a few new birds of prey. In total, the plan was to have two Harris’s hawks, eight falcons, eight back-up falcons and Ozzy the owl.
Gillian and other city officials have also touted the public awareness the bird abatement program brings.
Daniel Kelchner, director of Community Services, said in a memo when the city decided to award East Coast Falcons with a new contract that the company “has worked to greatly reduce disruptions by nuisance birds on our boardwalk, beaches, as well as certain interior areas where the gull presence has become a growing concern for our business community.”
For more information about East Coast Falcons visit: https://www.eastcoastfalcons.com/