‘Beautiful noise’: These Bellevue birds are bound for Brazil

The sound of the summer for Charles Shattuck isn’t waves crashing on the beach or the droning buzz of cicadas.

A bird protests but isn't hurt as Ian Stewart of the Delaware Nature Society tags it and other immature birds in a colony of purple martins in Bellevue State Park.
A bird protests but isn’t hurt as Ian Stewart of the Delaware Nature Society tags it and other immature birds in a colony of purple martins in Bellevue State Park. (Photo: WILLIAM BRETZGER, The News Journal)

It’s purple martins.

“The chatter of a colony of birds, the chortling, the chirping, the whistling, the clicking,” Shattuck said, looking up at the bird nests in Bellevue State Park, the air around them full of sleek purple martins. “They make so much noise: This is the music of summer for me.”

Shattuck and his wife Kathy, owners of Wild Birds Unlimited in Hockessin, donated and installed 24 gourd nests at the park and watch over their success. Located in a wide clearing near the park’s pond in the middle of a former horse track, the spot is ideal for the birds, Charles Shattuck said.

He had seen an existing, neglected nest in the park fail to thrive. Purple martins long ago became dependent on human-made structures to nest. An aging plywood version at Bellevue was not working as well as he knew the species-specific nests would.

Charles Shattuck of Wild Birds Unlimited places purple martins back in their gourd shaped nests after they were tagged at Bellevue State Park.
Charles Shattuck of Wild Birds Unlimited places purple martins back in their gourd shaped nests after they were tagged at Bellevue State Park. (Photo: WILLIAM BRETZGER, The News Journal)

Standing under the clusters of nests, Shattuck beamed as he ran off the numbers of the colony he established.

He counted 21 nestlings the first year he set up the gourds, 58 in 2018 and this count: 95, just shy of the triple digits he was hoping for. Falling short didn’t diminish his enthusiasm.

The reward for him will increase when he returns in a few days and those young birds will be joining the adults outside the nests. “You come back someday, there will be so many birds here,” he said.

Ian Stewart, an ornithologist with the Delaware Nature Society prepares tags to place on young purple martins in Bellevue State Park.
Ian Stewart, an ornithologist with the Delaware Nature Society prepares tags to place on young purple martins in Bellevue State Park. (Photo: WILLIAM BRETZGER, The News Journal)

In a few weeks, those young will be strong enough to begin a journey to South America for the winter, mostly landing in Brazil. They’ll backtrack and begin arriving in North America again in the spring, most returning to find summer homes close to where they began.

Shattuck and Ian Stewart of the Delaware Nature Society were working to corral and tag all those young birds.

Stewart, an ornithologist, deftly pulled the sometimes-squawking young birds out of cloth bags after they were picked from the nests by Shattuck. With a technique practiced hundreds of times, he quickly and painlessly crimped the light metal tags around the birds’ wiry legs. Not too loose, not too tight.


This article originally appeared in The News Journal on July 7, 2019. You can read it here.