By MADDY VITALE
Birds of prey Tilda, OC and Ozzy are taking to the Ocean City skies to scare away the pesky seagulls that are plaguing the Boardwalk and beaches looking for easy meals.
On Monday morning, Mayor Jay Gillian and other city officials joined the winged creatures, along with their handlers, in a pledge to lessen, if not stop, the seagulls from bothering Boardwalk strollers and beachgoers.
Ocean City hired East Coast Falcons, in an effort that is believed to be the first of its kind at the shore on the East Coast, to push out the gulls that have become dependent on an unnatural supply of food stolen from people on the Boardwalk and beach.
Gillian commented about the program, which began Saturday, “This is all about public safety. Hopefully it works, and people can enjoy quality of life they have come to expect here.”
Video courtesy Ian Crowley
While the birds will not be harmed, Gillian said he saw a child in a stroller dive-bombed by a seagull. That was when he had had enough.
“I worry about people,” he said.
For $2,100 a day, the city will utilize the services of East Coast Falcons through August and, if successful, the company will return in the summer of 2020, officials said.
“Look at the Boardwalk,” said Erik Swanson, a master falconer who owns the company. “There are no seagulls. When we are here you can see the results. The birds move off.”
People watched in amazement as the seagulls parted the skies while Swanson and other handlers walked around the Music Pier with the birds on their arms.
“It’s so cool and different. I hope it really will work,” remarked Marlton resident Erica Medora, who was visiting family in Ocean City. “I saw a seagull take a little kid’s ice cream cone. There was a swarm of them, about 30, in seconds.”
The falcons, hawks and owls will fly over the resort from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily to move the gulls away from the popular tourist areas without harming them.
In total there are seven birds being used.
Swanson said birds will fly around “hot spots,” specifically the eateries as well as beach areas where people have their picnic-style lunches.
“We are flying them up high,” he said. “They are not interested in eating. The interest is not to catch the birds. It is to scare the gulls away.”
At night, Swanson said, they will fly Ozzy, an 8-year-old Eurasian Eagle Owl, that weighs more than six pounds.
The mayor said the city has tried to warn the public of the dangers of feeding the seagulls through education and warning people of potential fines.
City officials have also worked with Boardwalk merchants to ensure they give patrons enclosed containers whenever possible to deter the gulls.
But nothing has really worked, Gillian said.
With the gulls becoming more aggressive, grabbing people’s ice cream cones, slices of pizza, fries and anything else, Gillian said he had to do something different.
He credited City Business Administrator George Savastano with finding out about the bird abatement program.
“We tried to educate and enforce. I think this way will work. Like with anything else, we try to think outside of the box. It is a matter of public safety and quality of life,” Gillian noted. “I hope these amazing birds work.”
When East Coast Falcon’s professionals fly the raptors overhead, gulls know instinctively to leave an unsafe place. Professional falconry-based bird abatement is a humane, effective solution for removing nuisance birds, officials said.
The contractor is licensed to conduct the work, and the effort is approved by the Humane Society of Ocean City, which oversees animal control for the town.
On Monday afternoon Swanson happily demonstrated for the public just how the seagulls seem to get the message to stay away.
As he walked with Ozzy at first, and then, Tilda, a falcon, on his arm down the Boardwalk, the seagulls scattered and disappeared from the rooftops and the skies.
Then it was time for Tilda to take an official flight to showcase what these birds do.
Swanson walked her to the Moorlyn Terrace beach entrance for take-off.
Tilda flapped her wings and away she went, patrolling the skies over the Boardwalk and beaches. As she circled, more and more seagulls scattered.