AVALON, Calif. — For years, this island harbor town has had serious tourism problems: Its beaches were consistently rated among the most polluted on the West Coast, and its waterfront was crowded with aggressive gulls that harassed visitors and stole food off their plates.
All that has changed, and leaders are giving much of the credit to a group of environmental enforcers they hired — Larry the hawk, Chin the falcon and Big Al the owl.
They are raptors, or birds of prey, trained to bloodlessly drive off pests fouling the harbor with waste droppings.
“We brought in a natural solution,” city manager Ben Harvey says.
Led by licensed master falconer Rocky Post and joined by a few feathered colleagues, the winged residents quickly established rule of the skies over Avalon, clearing the air and water in this resort center of Santa Catalina Island off the coast from Los Angeles.
Post, 60, a retired Torrance firefighter who has trained birds since before he was a teen, has become the bird man of Avalon, a popular and visible figure walking daily through streets, restaurants and shops with a raptor on a gloved hand or on the wing.
When Post first met with city leaders last fall to discuss their problems, he counted 40 gulls on or around their outdoor dining table. These days, those tables are mostly clear. When a bird does show up, a quick flyby from Larry is usually enough to scare away the straggler.
“When you put a predator back on top of the food chain, things start to balance out,” Post says.