TILLAMOOK – A trio of falcons began soaring above the Tillamook Transfer Station this week as part of the county’s most unique, and expensive, attempt to rid the dump and recycling depot of nuisance seagulls.
An estimated 2,000 gulls live near the transfer station, flocking to it as a source of food. They perch atop roofs, causing damage to the structures and creating a health risk by spreading bacteria.
As migratory birds, gulls are protected and therefore can’t simply be killed, said county solid waste coordinator Jennifer Purcell. Transfer station employees have tried a variety of creative deterrents – wires, kites, noisemakers, firecrackers, simulated predators – all to no avail.
The birds are smart, Purcell said, and they quickly acclimate.
The newest approach relies on three trained falcons that fly around the transfer station and keep seagulls away from their food source.
Tillamook County commissioners approved an eight-week, not-to-exceed $22,970 trial contract with California-based AirStrike Bird Control, which began May 4. The trial period includes a seven-day-a-week falcon presence at the site during operating hours.For years, the county typically has budgeted about $40,000 for bird abatement, but that money has not been fully used because, Purcell said, “I wasn’t willing to spend big dollars on programs that have been tested elsewhere and failed.”
Spike strips along the roofs, for example, aren’t effective in the long term, she said.
On the other hand, falconry has worked at locations such as the Roosevelt Landfill in Washington, which has used the technique for the past 10 years.
If shown to be successful, the county has the option to continue the falconry program at an annual cost of $40,000-$60,000, Purcell said.
Eventually, the program can be maintained by flying the falcons about once every three days.
“At this point, it’s working famously,” Purcell said.
Falconer Kort Clayton of Portland said the program is designed to be non-lethal. The falcons don’t attack the seagulls; their mere presence keeps the other birds away.
AirStrike promotes its services as “a natural technique that is part of the balance of nature. It is chemical-free and non-polluting.” As they are unable to reach their food source, the gulls eventually will leave the site.
Of Tillamook County’s three transfer stations, only the station just south of Tillamook accepts commercial garbage trucks – and has the open-air transfer of waste that attracts the gulls.
The birds are more than just a nuisance. The Department of Environmental Quality has found that the Tillamook Transfer Station’s stormwater samples are exceeding allowable measurements of E. coli bacteria. The DEQ has not yet fined the county, but it has asked officials to develop a corrective action plan.
Purcell said the high levels of E. coli are directly related to the seagulls’ fecal matter. Shooing away the birds is the first course of action in the plan.
Purcell said another side benefit is the increased efficiency of transfer station staff, who no longer have to spend time scaring away the gulls.