MARGATE — Someone driving down Madison Avenue doesn’t need an address to find the home of the self-described “Birdman of Margate.” Turns out, it’s the house with all the birds in front of it.
“I just love birds,” said Ed Devlin. “You’d be surprised — I go out in the morning and they’re waiting on the line for me.”
At 69, Devlin is that Margate rarity, born and raised on Absecon Island, who remembers taking the trolley to school in Atlantic City.
“I’m a relic down here,” Devlin said. “I’ve lived here all my life.”
His father, Frank Devlin, had one of those businesses that didn’t last beyond the 20th century — ice delivery for the American Ice Company.
“There was an ice house on Douglas Avenue,” Devlin said. “My dad used to deliver to Longport and Ventnor before anyone had electricity.”
Deliveries also came to more than a dozen bars in Margate, a few of which Devlin ticked off by memory: Strotbeck’s, the old Gables, Moylan’s, and the old Tavern on Washington Avenue — and last but not least, the old Greenhouse on Decatur Avenue, which the Devlins owned themselves.
Ed, though, found a job at Margate Public Works, where he worked for 43 years. Now in his retirement, he still helps maintain the city, one yard at a time — “I get up every morning at 8 o’clock and get out and cut lawns,” he said. “I love doing that” — but there was still something missing.
Then came The Birdman.
“I watched Burt Lancaster in ‘The Birdman of Alcatraz’,” he said. “I remember all the canaries he had.”
He went to the hardware store, bought a 30-pound bag of seed for $6, and the Birdman of Margate was born.
“I had 50 to 100 here this morning,” Devlin said. “But when the cars go up and down, it scares them away.”
The birds that take advantage of the avian buffet the most? Little sparrows.
“They come out a lot. Look at the little baby with its mother there,” he said, gesturing. “She picks it up and puts the food in its mouth, because their beaks are not strong enough to get food.”
Devlin can rattle off visiting bird species like a star-watcher dropping celebrity names.
“There are robins, crows,” he said. “I get a few doves ... Cardinals, two of ‘em come around once in a while, late in the afternoons ... The pigeons are still here, I get six to seven of ‘em at once ... You see a blackbird there, a lot of them come around, too ...”
Devlin is even open to some non-feathered diners.
“You’d be surprised,” he said. “The squirrels are coming around here, too, and it doesn’t even scare (the birds). They come right up onto the porch. And we’ve had wild rabbits, too, but they only come in the mornings.”
Of course, some birds are avis non grata.
“I don’t feed ‘em any bread, because if I throw bread out there, I’d have 25 seagulls,” Devlin said. “They’re vultures. They come in and scare everybody. So that feed is so small, the seagulls can’t get at them. ... Look, the seagull comes and he scares them away. See them?”
After each breakfast, lunch and dinner, he uses a hose to wash off the sidewalk. No leaving bird droppings for the neighbors — those neighbors he has, anyway. The Margate of his youth has evolved into the seasonal, second-home town it is today, one house at a time.
“They built a new house over here,” he said, pointing across the street. “That one they tore down last September to build townhomes. Then the one on the corner there, that was all built up last year ...”
Some bars still remain, such as Jerry Blavat’s Memories Lounge, conveniently located right up the street.
“All the girls walk by at night and say hi to me,” Devlin said. “They’re all going to Jerry Blavat’s. ... It’s great to watch them as they glide down.”
OK, that last comment was about the birds. But it applies both ways.
“I just like to take care of these birds,” Devlin said. “Sometimes, I see a bird, once in a while, and they come to me. Nobody feeds them — only me.”
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