LOCKPORT, NY - Animal rehabilitators are lauding the cooperation they received from a demolition crew in rescuing four dozen baby gulls from the rubble of an abandoned shopping mall.
The former Lockport Mall on Transit Road is currently being razed to make way for a new WalMart store.
On Wednesday Ruxana Bhatti was doing some shopping at a department store adjacent to the demolition site, when she says she noticed "hundreds of gulls, flying around and screeching".
"I figured there had to be something terribly wrong," Bhatti told WGRZ-TV.
"Then I saw the babies (gull chicks) running in the roads and parking lots,...just running everywhere," she said.
Her first instinct was to beseech the operator of a nearby piece of heavy machinery to stop the work.
"But he told me he could not do that and went right back to his job," Bhatti said.
Bhatti, who ironically had recently completed an exam to become a registered wildlife rehabilitator, began making calls to local animal rescue groups who descended on the site in short order.
"We got here and assessed the situation,...the mother birds were all flying around screaming and it was just a terrible scene," said Kathleen Britton of Wild Kritters of Niagara County.
"By the sounds of it you'd have thought there was a massacre going on," said Bob Humbert of the Association for Wild Animal Rehabilitation and Education (AWARE), who also responded to the scene and is now caring for several of the chicks.
Britton, Humbert, and others sought out the job site foreman working for Mulvey Construction, and say he reacted quickly to the situation, not only ordering a halt to the work, but getting his workers out of their heavy equipment and pressing them into service to facilitate a rescue.
"We handed them out nets over the construction fences and these guys were running around like chickens with their heads cut off in 90-degree heat, scooping up the chicks and bringing them back to us," Britton told 2 On Your Side.
However Britton and Humbert believe it's quite possible that perhaps dozens more birds were killed in the demolition process before it was brought to their attention.
The flat roofs of large buildings such as shopping malls are popular nesting grounds for gulls, offering shelter from the elements and predators.
As migratory birds, gulls are also a protected species.
Megan Gollwitzer, a spokesperson for the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation issued the following statement Thursday afternoon:
New York State DEC is not the appropriate agency for questions or permissions related to gull control; gull control is a matter of federal jurisdiction. To clarify, DEC did not and could not issue any authorization relative to removal of gulls or gull nests in Lockport. The appropriate federal agency to contact for questions about gull control or to obtain necessary permissions related to gull control is US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) . DEC's Division of Law Enforcement will be in contact with USFWS, and could potentially become involved in looking into the matter to determine in enforcement actions are warranted.
Calls to the enforcement branch of the local USFWS were not returned. Mulvey construction also did not return calls for comment on this story.
Those now caring for the rescued birds plan to release them in a month or so when they say they will be ready to fend for themselves.
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