A New Jersey beach town is shelling out a whopping $65,000 on a team of hawks, falcons and owls to scare away pesky, food-stealing seagulls from the boardwalk, according to a new report.
The seagulls in Ocean City are becoming increasingly aggressive as they scour for snacks in the popular family vacation destination — and officials decided this week that it’s time to take action, The Press of Atlantic City reported.
A team of professional bird trainers, hired by the city, is now on hand deploying hawks, falcons and owls more than 2,000 feet above the boardwalk to scare off the seagulls, officials announced at a Monday press conference.
“It’s exactly like if a tiger ran in here,” Erik Swanson, master falconer and owner of East Coast Falcons, said as a Eurasian eagle owl, Ozzy, sat perched on his arm. “What would everybody do?”
The gull abatement program costs $2,100 per day — adding up to about $65,000 until Labor Day, Mayor Jay Gillian said, according to the paper. By the end of the summer, the city will weigh whether the effort was successful enough to be renewed.
“We always try to look out of the box, and that’s what I think we’ve done here,” Gillian told reporters, adding that the gulls are a “public safety hazard.”
The birds of prey arrived on Saturday, and will be on gull patrol each day from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Gillian said in a statement on his website. The goal is “to move the gulls away from this area without harming them,” and the program is believed to be the first of its kind for any East Coast shore town, the statement said.
The predators’ mere presence is intended to make the gulls flee — and their trainers control their diets, so they’re not hungry and hunting while on duty, Swanson told the local paper.
At the end of the day, the trainers below a whistle to lure the birds back to land, rewarding them with a piece of quail meat. At that time, the seagulls are free to go back to scavenging for fish and crab in the ocean.
“It’s a win-win for everybody,” P.J. Simonis, also of East Coast falcons, who was holding a 17-week-old Harris hawk, said, according to the report.
While the predators may occasionally attack a gull, “that’s nature,” Swanson added.
On Monday, the seagulls were no longer on the prowl — and many beachgoers were happy.
“Thank you, mayor!” one woman called out to Gillian after the press conference.
Another woman told the paper that just last week, she witnessed a flock of gulls swiping a child’s ice cream cone, and hopes the new measure will bring an end to similar incidents.
But Ellen McGee, who has a summer home in Ocean City, had a few concerns.
“It seems disruptive,” she told the paper. “When I first heard them talking about it, I thought, ‘Is this good?’ I don’t know.”
Eric Stiles, the president of the New Jersey Audubon Society, told the paper the practice is humane and common — and similar programs are running at airports and dumps throughout the Garden State.
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