Seagulls that swipe food from Boardwalk visitors are a problem in Ocean City. Hawks, falcons and owls may be the solution. most recently flying into two stores on the Boardwalk in Ocean City and terrifying customers Thursday, Aug 13, 2015

OCEAN CITY — The seagulls in Ocean City have ruffled some feathers.

Officials announced Friday the city will begin using trained raptors to scare away hostile, hungry seagulls known to swipe food from people on the Boardwalk.

The city hired East Coast Falcons, a professional bird training company, to deploy hawks, falcons and owls over the Boardwalk every day from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. to frighten off the large population of gulls that have laid claim to the popular tourist attraction, according to a news release.

Gulls in Ocean City have become more aggressive over the years in their search for fries and other treats. Last month, Mayor Jay Gillian warned residents not to feed the birds and said businesses should provide covers for food.

The city said the gulls will feel unsafe with raptors flying overhead and will “know instinctively to leave.”

The Humane Society of Ocean City approved the gull abatement program, which the city called a “humane, effective solution for removing nuisance birds.” It will continue through August and possibly return next summer.

“The sight of falcons, hawks and owls over the Boardwalk will be unique, and I hope you’ll join me in wishing this program success,” the mayor wrote in a letter to residents.

According to its website, East Coast Falcons can fly its raptors 2,000 to 3,000 feet above an area “to scare, harass and remove pest birds humanely and effectively.”

Ocean City’s relationship with the gulls has long been strained.

In 2016, the city passed an ordinance to fine those who attract the birds by tossing them scraps of food. A year earlier, tensions hit a boiling point when police said a Pennsylvania man killed a gull while defending his 2-year-old child from it with a rolled-up towel.

It’s a fairly common wildlife management practice that relies on “aversive conditioning,” or the use of something unpleasant to stop unwanted behavior, said Eric Stiles, president of NJ Audubon. Even smart scavengers like gulls will react to falcons, hawks and owls, he said.

He says trained raptors are used at airports to scare away birds from planes. In downtown Trenton, he said, the city uses falcon noises to stop pigeons from landing on buildings.

“Its like using border collies to get Canada geese off lawns,” Stiles said. “What I’d say is, bring a pair of binoculars and watch.”

Contact: 609-272-7258

Twitter @AvalonZoppo

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