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Ocean City unleashes birds of prey to scare off seagulls

Ocean City unleashes birds of prey to fend off seagulls
Ocean City unleashes birds of prey to fend off seagulls 03:52

OCEAN CITY, N.J. (CBS) -- Almost everyone who's been to the Jersey Shore has a seagull story.

"I've had a seagull steal a pizza right from me after I got it," Sydney Mullin of Haddonfield said. 

"When I was younger, I was eating a cheese stick and a seagull attacked me for it," Lydia Palmer of Marlton said. 

Some are scarier than others.

"I've had them take my ice cream, attack me while I was eating chicken parm, poop on me," said Gabby Kaczorowski of Haddon Heights.

But if you're heading down to the Ocean City beach and boardwalk this Memorial Day Weekend, you might notice a few big birds of prey looking out for your fries and pizza.

Like Karen the hawk here.

Karen the hawk perches on the arm of Mark Quinnette of East Coast Falcons. The bird company recently had its contract renewed with Ocean City, N.J. to deter seagulls on the beach and boardwalk through 2025. CBS News Philadelphia

In Ocean City, seagull swarms and attacks are happening a lot less often thanks to Karen and her avian colleagues.

Led by her trainer Mark Quinnette of East Coast Falcons, it's Karen's job to fly from pole to pole along the boardwalk, perching herself in plain sight to scare off groups of aggressive gulls. 

"These hawks are really good because they're trained to follow us like dogs," Quinnette said. "What we do on the boardwalk isn't necessarily hunting, we're literally just exercising our birds and flying birds in different problem areas that get inundated with the seagulls."

Karen is part of a raptor fleet of 14 that includes other hawks, falcons, and a Eurasian eagle-owl named Ozzie. 

"The whole reason we're here is because it's easier to train birds than people," Quinnette said. "Teaching the gulls to get their food from the ocean, get it from the bay and everything else, is the smart, humane way to handle this problem."

Ozzie the Eurasian eagle-owl is one of the birds of prey keeping seagulls away from the beach and boardwalk in Ocean City, N.J. CBS News Philadelphia

As former fry servers on the boardwalk, Brian and Liz Kerchmer know these gulls have gall, but they've already noticed better behavior since Ocean City brought in birds of prey. 

"Working down here on the boardwalk, we know how aggressive they can get, so the second you let your guard down, they can swoop down and they're pretty aggressive sometimes," Brian Kerchmer said. 

"I feel like it's gotten a lot better, I haven't seen them dive bomb nearly as much, we don't see them as often patrolling the boardwalk," Liz Kerchmer said.

The program has been so successful since 2019 that Ocean City Council recently extended its contract with East Coast Falcons to fly their fleet in town through 2025. Their eventual goal is to influence bird behavior, so the seagulls will stop bothering beachgoers altogether. 

"Seagulls are highly communicative," Quinnette said. "So yes, it absolutely influences their behavior. Us flying a few controlled hawks in this area starts teaching the gulls, 'Oh, there's a lot more hawks than I thought there was.' ... Ultimately that will get passed down generation to generation, and they will start deterring away from it."

And hopefully, that'll keep your boardwalk and beach snacks safe.  

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