By DONALD WITTKOWSKIJackie McLeer joked that the seagulls “must have gotten the text message or memo.”The Ocean City resident looked around with amusement at the unusual sight of only a small number of the pesky, squawking birds hanging around the Boardwalk in front of the Music Pier at about 11:30 a.m. Saturday.Then it became apparent why so many gulls were missing. The purported text or memo conjured up by McLeer was about two intimidating falcons held by representatives of the company East Coast Falcons.The arrival of the trained falcons in Ocean City is part of Mayor Jay Gillian’s plan to rid the beaches, Boardwalk and other parts of town of the swarms of hungry gulls that have been menacing residents and tourists alike.“This is about public safety. With anything involving public safety, we’re going to do everything we can,” Gillian explained of the novel program to frighten the gulls away by using birds of prey.(Video courtesy of East Coast Falcons)The mayor noted that he decided to take action after witnessing one of the gulls aggressively dive down on a young child in a baby carriage and “smack the child in the face.”“That was the last straw for me,” Gillian said. “It’s an island-wide problem, tip to tip. Anywhere there are seagulls, we’re trying to get them back to their natural habitat.”“At least we’re trying to do something,” he continued. “If we just sit back and do nothing, someone’s going to get hurt.”Gillian has urged the public not to feed the gulls, emphasizing that the birds are congregating on the beaches, the Boardwalk and other areas where they can get easy meals instead of staying in their natural habitat. In Ocean City, it is against the law to feed seagulls and other wildlife.“Over time, the gulls in Ocean City have become increasingly aggressive in their quest for Boardwalk food and beach picnics. For the health and safety of both these birds and humans, the city must take action to return them to their natural diet and habitat,” the city said in a statement. Aggressive seagulls swarm people on the Boardwalk while trying to steal some food.After hearing numerous complaints from members of the public about gulls swooping in and brazenly stealing food right out of people’s hands, the city hired East Coast Falcons to solve the problem.“In my experience here, they’re more aggressive this year than they ever have been,” City Business Administrator George Savastano said of the gulls. McLeer said she has been avoiding the Boardwalk in the evenings out of fear of being attacked by gulls.“I get nervous,” she said. “I don’t come up here at night because there are swarms of them, usually around 4 or 5 p.m.”East Coast Falcons will use two falcons, a hawk and an owl to harass the gulls. The raptors will patrol the skies daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. The idea is to frighten the gulls, not to harm or kill them, said Erik Swanson, a master falconer who owns the company.“Once they get acclimated to the area, then they’ll defend the area and scare away the gulls,” he said.Swanson expressed confidence that the plan will work in Ocean City. He pointed out that he has spent about 30 years using raptors to chase away geese, pigeons, starlings and other birds from golf courses, landfills, airports and other places where they have become a nuisance.Beachgoers fend off seagulls attempting to snatch some French fries.Swanson and his raptors will make their official Ocean City debut 11 a.m. Monday during a news conference in front of the Music Pier. The “bird abatement program,” as it is called, is believed to be the first of its kind for any shore town on the East Coast. The program will continue through August. If it is successful, it will return in summer 2020, the city said.“When East Coast Falcon’s professionals fly the raptors overhead, gulls know instinctively to leave an unsafe place,” the city’s statement said. “Professional falconry-based bird abatement is a humane, effective solution for removing nuisance birds. The contractor is licensed to conduct the work, and the effort is approved by the Humane Society of Ocean City, which oversees animal control for the town.”Two of the falcons, named Blackberry and Tilda, made their presence immediately known on Saturday while being held by Swanson and fellow falconer P.J. Simonis at the Music Pier. Although they didn’t fly around, the falcons apparently got the attention of the gulls, which seemed to scatter and disappear, prompting McLeer’s “text or memo” joke.Swanson said the gulls immediately recognized the outline of the falcons and simply fled the area to save themselves from a predator.The falcons remained perched on the hands of Swanson and Simonis. They were outfitted with hoods over their heads to keep them calm.“Just one of these birds could abate the whole island,” Simonis said of the ability of the falcons to chase away the gulls.P.J. Simonis, center, and Erik Swanson show the falcons to people on the Boardwalk.People on the Boardwalk were able to speak to Swanson and Simonis and get a close-up view of the falcons.Jack Masters, an Ocean City summer resident who lives in Media, Pa., asked Swanson whether the falcons would be a threat to small pets. Masters and his wife have a small dog. Swanson assured Masters that the raptors will leave small pets alone, focusing their attention instead on the seagulls.“I think this is a great idea by the mayor,” Masters said of the gull abatement program.Without the raptors flying around, Masters believes the gulls would continue to pester small children while trying to snatch food.“These little kids with their French fries, it’s an invitation for the seagulls to swoop in and grab a meal. Something must be done to stop it,” he said. Jack Masters, a summer resident in Ocean City, speaks to falconers Erik Swanson, center, and P.J. Simonis about the raptors that will patrol the skies.