Seagulls have made headlines this summer for aggressively stealing food directly from beachgoers. But Ocean City hopes to rid the beach of the nuisance birds by bringing in other species to scare them away — for about $2,000 a day.
Raptors like falcons, hawks and owls from trainers at East Coast Falcons will be flying day and night in Ocean City to push out the seagulls. Aside from ransacking people's snacks, Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian said the birds have also created a safety hazard.
"We tried to educate everybody: Don't feed them. And then we tried to fine them, but you know, you can't fine everybody," he said.
Gillian even witnessed a seagull injure an infant earlier this summer.
"A seagull came down after a child that was in a baby stroller, a 1- or 2-year-old, and it happened so fast. I though the child was eating a piece of pizza, but there was blood on her face," he recalled.
The raptors will be in the air between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. each day, according to raptor handler PJ Simons. He hopes his birds will "teach the seagulls that this isn't a place for them to hang out."
"They need to go back out and search for their food and find other sources," he added, "not funnel cake and French fries; more like clams and crabs."
Long-term Ocean City resident Marlania Buckley has already noticed fewer seagulls wreaking havoc with the addition of the predators.
"It's working," she said. "The seagulls are not harmed and then they fly to their own habitat, and now they know they can actually eat what they are supposed to be eating."
The raptor program will continue through Labor Day and may even make a return next summer.