BY MADDY VITALE, OCNJDAILY
Four years and counting and the falconers — along with their raptors — are chasing seagulls away from the beaches, the Boardwalk and the downtown in Ocean City.
Seth Rowe, a falconer for the city-contracted East Coast Falcons, looked down the Boardwalk over the busy Labor Day weekend after setting his Harris’s hawk, Karen, out on her mission to rid the boards of pesky, pizza-snatching birds.
When asked how his summer season was shaping up as a falconer in Ocean City, he said, “Doing excellent. Not a gull in sight. That’s how the summer has been.”
That was Saturday, and throngs of visitors to the island filled the boards, parking lots were filled and Rowe had a pretty big job to do to keep the Boardwalk as “gull free” as possible.
“There were a lot of gulls this summer,” East Coast Falcons owner Erik Swanson said in an interview Sunday. “But we had them under control.”
In addition to Swanson, there were three full-time and three part-time handlers this summer for the 10 birds, which included three Harris’s hawks and falcons.
There were even more visitors than in previous years on the boards and beaches and downtown, which resulted in a bit of a game plan adjustment for Swanson and his team, he said.
“One of the things we did this year was bring a lot of falcons down here, which people don’t see,” Swanson explained of times when people asked where the birds were. “They are up overhead, flying 800 to 1,000 feet up in the air. I would hear people on the Boardwalk ask what happened to the falcons. I literally would tell them to look up.”
Even though the traditional end to the summer tourism season is Labor Day, East Coast Falcons will be working in Ocean City until Columbus Day.
Since being contracted by Ocean City in 2019, East Coast Falcons, based in Lodi, N.J., primarily focused on the Boardwalk and the beachfront.
But over the last couple of years, the coverage has been extended to the downtown and the entire island – where needed.
Swanson noted that the city has been very progressive in working with them on the bird abatement program to create the best way to rid the island of the nuisance birds.
Hawks, including Karen, are the birds often taken up and down the Boardwalk and in the downtown.
“The hawks you see are a lot more labor intensive,” Swanson explained. “The falcons cover a much bigger area. We wanted to switch over to that for a while, but it can be complicated because of the larger areas.”
In the mornings, falconers patrol with the Harris’s hawks.
“In the afternoon there is no place to bring them in because of the crowds,” Swanson explained of the hawks. “So, we decided to fly them in the morning and the falcons in the afternoon when it gets busier.”
And it appears the game plan has been working through a busy summer.
“This year, one of the coolest things I have seen since I have been down here, is parental birds are not bringing their babies to the Boardwalk,” Swanson pointed out. “Instead of teaching them to beg for fries, they are learning how to fish in the ocean. That was the goal of mine when I came down here. I wanted to get the gulls back to normal. It is happening.”
For more information about East Coast Falcons visit: https://www.eastcoastfalcons.com/