BY MVITALE, OCNJDAILY
Seagulls should know the drill by now if they hang out in Ocean City. When spring comes, they had better be on their best behavior. That means no food snatching, no menacing the tourists and no loitering on the Boardwalk, in the downtown or any other busy area in town.
The company East Coast Falcons (ECF) and its gull-chasing raptors are coming back in April to intimidate the gulls and keep them from harassing residents and vacationers.
On Thursday, City Council plans to award a contract for 2024 to East Coast Falcons. The contract is for $328,012 with a daily rate of $2,359 a day. The city can renew the contract for one additional year from April 2025 through October 2025, according to the resolution.
Dan Kelchner, the city’s director of Community Services, said in a memo that he is in support of renewing the bird abatement contract with East Coast Falcons for 2024, noting that the “services are beyond satisfactory.”
“ECF has worked to greatly reduce disruptions by nuisance birds on our Boardwalk, beaches, as well certain interior areas where the gull presence has become a growing concern for our business community,” Kelchner said.
East Coast Falcons, owned by Erik Swanson, was the sole bidder for the 2024 contract. Swanson, his handlers and raptors have been bird-policing the gulls in Ocean City since 2019.
Each year, handlers from the Lodi, N.J., company, take out different birds of prey. ECF has Harris’s hawks, falcons, back-up falcons and Ozzy the owl – who goes on night patrol.
At first, the focus of the bird-abatement program was primarily the Boardwalk and some of the downtown, but over the past three years, it has expanded other areas on the island.
There are several aspects of the 2024 program as follows:
- The program will begin April 4 and extend through Oct. 19
- Services will begin at 8 a.m. or earlier, in an effort to provide abatement services to breakfast establishments and eateries.
- The program includes abatement services in the downtown district, 34th Street business district and other interior business districts and public spaces.
- The program includes weekly educational opportunities for residents and visitors to learn about ECF and the science behind falconry based bird abatement.
The public has expressed interest in the falconer program and each summer, the handlers will draw a crowd of spectators who ask questions about the birds and the program.
Kelchner noted in the memo that the program has become more than simply an effective bird abatement program.
“ECF also does an outstanding with the city to create public awareness of the program and to promote the educational aspects about falconry based bird abatement that are fascinating to so many residents and visitors,” he said.
Prior to 2019, the Boardwalk scene in the spring and summer looked much different — especially the rooftops of eateries where gulls positioned themselves.
Gulls would also perch on top of beach umbrellas awaiting the right opportunity to grab a fry or some pizza.
Mayor Jay Gillian and the city administration hired East Coast Falcons in 2019 after receiving numerous complaints about aggressive gulls menacing people for their food.
The final straw for Gillian came when he saw a gull dive-bomb and “smack” a child in the face. He has repeatedly characterized it as a public safety issue.
Throughout the program, Gillian and other city officials have said that the goal is being met. The gulls are being chased back into their natural habitat, the bays, marshlands and ocean.
For more information about East Coast Falcons visit: https://www.eastcoastfalcons.com/