By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
For three consecutive summers, the East Coast Falcons have used their trained birds of prey to chase pesky and aggressive seagulls for food from beaches, the boardwalk and other places in town popular with Ocean City tourists.
Now, the company that serves as the city’s gull control contractor will turn its attention to another pest: rats.
The hawks, hawks and a corporate owl that are used to harass the seagulls will not be called into action to hunt down the rats. Instead, the company will set up live traps to catch rodents and then they will be euthanized, said Erik Swanson, owner of the East Coast Falcons.
East Coast Falcons will focus on eliminating rodents in the south of the city from 50th Street to 59th Street, Swanson said. The rat population appears to be small so far, he noted.
“For some reason the rats were in the neighborhood and the neighbors were screaming for help,” Swanson said in an interview on Friday.
The business started two days ago and will continue to work until it looks like the rats are gone. Swanson, an animal control expert, will also help neighbors secure their trash cans to prevent rodents from foraging in their yards.
Swanson said some of the steps homeowners can take are as simple as making sure the lids on trash cans are securely closed to keep rats out. He also suggested homeowners switch to sturdier metal trash cans instead of using plastic trash cans.
Swanson’s birds of prey are able to hunt rats. However, he noted that neighbors had used rat poison to try and kill the rodents. The presence of poison makes it too dangerous for its birds, he said.
Ocean City’s high-profile hiring of a company that flies hawks, hawks and an owl around the island to scare off seagulls is believed to be the first of its kind for a town on the Jersey Shore.
The arrival of raptors from summer 2019 is part of Mayor Jay Gillian’s plan to rid the beaches, promenade and other parts of town of swarms of hungry seagulls that threatened residents and tourists for their food. .
City officials made the decision to hire East Coast Falcons after hearing numerous complaints from tourists and local residents about hyper-aggressive gulls rushing to snatch an easy meal out of people’s hands.
The city has repeatedly said that the bird control program has been successful in returning the gulls to their natural habitat in the ocean and bays.
Now in its third summer as the city’s seagull control contractor, East Coast Falcons will complete work for the year over the Columbus Day weekend in October.
City business administrator George Savastano first reported at a city council meeting Thursday night that the East Coast Falcons will team up with Ocean City to help solve the rodent problem in the south.
“This is a good example of a public-private partnership to proactively address a local concern,” said city spokesman Doug Bergen.
The exact reason the rats have started to appear now in the southern end is unclear. Swanson said they “had just moved in.”
During his report to Council, Savastano said State Assembly Member Antwan McClellan, who lives in Ocean City, would be in contact with officials in New Jersey to see if Corson’s State Park Inlet, at the southern tip of the island, could be contributing to the rodent problem.