By MADDY VITALE
Seagulls, don’t start planning your weekend food attacks in Ocean City just yet.
The raptors will be watching you for a little longer.
And it will be just enough time for vacationers to enjoy the resort’s popular shoulder season, and for the owners of stores, eateries and amusements to enjoy more of the proceeds of what has been deemed a blockbuster summer both in good weather and business.
According to Ocean City Public Information Officer Doug Bergen, the city has extended its agreement with East Coast Falcons, a company hired by the city to frighten the pesky gulls, through Columbus Day weekend.
Columbus Day weekend coincides with the city’s popular Fall Block Party festival that annually draws tens of thousands of visitors to town.
“Yes, we’re continuing the program on the weekends through Block Party weekend,” Bergen said.
Ozzy the owl, OC the hawk, Tilda the falcon and other trained birds of prey will patrol from noon to 10 p.m. on Fridays, on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Bergen explained.
The falcons and hawks fly around during the daytime shift, while the owl takes over at night. From August until Labor Day, the birds were flying seven days a week.
With few seagulls in sight, Jenifer and Rob Bremen, of East Brunswick, and their 8-year-old son, Matthew, relaxed on the beach on Labor Day with their friends, Jennifer Plousis, of Ocean City, and her daughter, Maddie.
The Bremens visit Plousis and her family often, and over the summer they noticed what many beachgoers and Boardwalk strollers saw in astonishment.
Ocean City changed from a scene from the Hitchcock movie, “The Birds,” where birds perch atop the buildings in swarms, to barely any gull sightings since the raptors took charge.
Hearing that the raptors would stay on until Columbus Day weekend fit with the Bremens’ calendar of visiting their friends in the resort throughout September and into October.
“It’s amazing. There are no seagulls. Last night we were on the Boardwalk and didn’t see any,” Jenifer Bremen said with a smile.
Her husband, Rob, followed it up, saying it was unlike the scene prior to the arrival of the raptors.
“It was Memorial Day weekend. We came down to visit and saw a whole slice of pizza taken from a kid,” Rob Bremen said of the swooping seagulls. “We couldn’t believe it. It was the whole slice – gone. Now there are literally no birds.”
Originally, the agreement with East Coast Falcons was to have the raptors patrol the skies until Labor Day. But because of the success and the events scheduled throughout September and October, city officials felt it would be a good idea to extend them to Columbus Day weekend and the Fall Block Party.
While noting the success of using raptors to scare the gulls, Ocean City Business Administrator George Savastano said in a recent interview, “It seems like we hit a home run with our first choice.”
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 on Aug. 22 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 Council meeting.
The city has been paying East Coast Falcons $2,100 per day to have the raptors fly over the entire island, particularly the tourist-friendly beaches and Boardwalk.