first_imgBy DONALD WITTKOWSKI and MADDY VITALEOzzy, OC, Tilda and the other raptors that have been spending part of their summer working in Ocean City may stay on the job a little bit longer.That is great news for Ocean City’s tourists. However, it is terrible for the seagulls.Ocean City is using the trained raptors to chase away the swarms of dive-bombing gulls that swoop in to snatch pizza, French fries and other food from unsuspecting beachgoers and people strolling the Boardwalk.Ozzy the owl, OC the hawk, Tilda the falcon and other birds of prey owned by East Coast Falcons, a company hired by the city to frighten the pesky gulls, work each day from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. The falcons and hawks fly around during the daytime shift, while the owl takes over at night.Encouraged by the success of the gull-abatement program, Ocean City Business Administrator George Savastano said city officials are thinking about keeping the raptors around longer.Originally, the agreement with East Coast Falcons was to have the raptors patrol the skies until Labor Day.Now, there is discussion about keeping them around through Columbus Day weekend, coinciding with the Fall Block Party on Oct. 12, an event that traditionally draws tens of thousands of visitors to town.“That’s what we are thinking,” Savastano said.Handler P.J. Simonis gets ready to send a hawk out on a late afternoon flight.While noting the success of using raptors to scare the gulls, Savastano said, “It seems like we hit a home run with our first choice.”Savastano also discussed other ways the city is battling the gulls. They include making sure that trash cans are covered and working with Boardwalk merchants to provide enclosed food containers for people’s takeout meals.“The gulls realized very quickly it is a very easy food source,” Savastano noted of the Boardwalk fare.Besides keeping the gulls at bay, the bird abatement program has also benefited the city by generating tons of positive publicity both nationally and internationally.“It’s certainly the most publicity we have had because it’s unique,” Savastano said, referring to the extensive news coverage.Ocean City is the first coastal community in New Jersey to use raptors to startle the bothersome gulls. The gulls are not killed. Instead, they are scared away from areas that are popular with the summer crowds.“This one has been working out fantastic,” Erik Swanson, owner of East Coast Falcons, told members of City Council of the efforts to drive the gulls back into their natural habitat, the ocean and bays.In what was certainly an unprecedented appearance by an owl in City Council Chambers, Swanson brought Ozzy with him while giving a report to the governing body and Mayor Jay Gillian during a meeting on Aug. 22.“OC” the hawk gets ready to take flight.The city is paying East Coast Falcons $2,100 per day to have the raptors patrol the skies over the entire island, particularly the tourist-friendly beaches and Boardwalk.While the original plan was to keep the raptors until Labor Day, the program has been working so well that city officials may extend it into the increasingly popular shoulder season.Since being hired earlier this month, East Coast Falcons has had a positive impact on the experience of Boardwalk strollers and beachgoers, city officials said.Vacationers and residents have been able to nibble on French fries, pizza, ice cream and other goodies without fear of gulls snatching the food off beach towels or right out of people’s hands.During the last few weekends, beachgoers and people on the Boardwalk have noted that only a few gulls seem to be lingering near the eateries and other “hot spots” that attract the birds.Even if the gulls hang around, they don’t seem to attack people’s food with the same aggression they showed before the raptors arrived in Ocean City.Ozzy the owl, held by East Coast Falcons owner Erik Swanson, works the night shift. Falconer Erik Swanson releases a falcon to patrol the skies in Ocean City during a display of the successful program in 2019. last_img

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