News / USA

Plan Hatched to Lure Swallows Back to Capistrano

Experts hope to lure swallows back to Capistrano by playing recordings of cliff swallows in Nebraska in the mission’s courtyard. (Mission San Juan Capistrano)
Experts hope to lure swallows back to Capistrano by playing recordings of cliff swallows in Nebraska in the mission’s courtyard. (Mission San Juan Capistrano)
Josie Huang
SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, CALIFORNIA - One of California's oldest missions wants to bring back a piece of its living history: cliff swallows. The tiny, migratory birds used flock by the hundreds to nest at Mission San Juan Capistrano, and were a major seasonal attraction for visitors.

Today, swallows are bypassing the historic site, but the mission is teaming up with scientists to lure the fabled birds back.
 
The cliff swallows' long-time roost at Mission San Juan Capistrano is celebrated every March with a parade, and 70 years ago, was immortalized through a song, "When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano," which made Billboard’s Top Ten list.
Mission Hatches Plan to Lure Swallows Back to Capistrano
Mission Hatches Plan to Lure Swallows Back to Capistranoi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

 
The only problem is the swallows are not returning to Capistrano and haven’t for more than a decade.
 
In the 1990s, a project to restore the stone ruins of the mission's 200-year-old church dislodged several hundred nests, removing the entire colony.  
 
”It's sad but, you know we had to stabilize these ruins so they wouldn't fall over and kill man," says Mechelle Lawrence-Adams, the mission's executive director.

The little brown birds with the white triangle on their faces still fly back to the city of San Juan Capistrano every spring after wintering in southern Argentina. You can see them in the sky, flashing their white bellies as they dive-bomb for insects mid-air.
It's been more than 10 years since the swallows nested at Capistrano. (Courtesy Mission San Juan Capistrano)It's been more than 10 years since the swallows nested at Capistrano. (Courtesy Mission San Juan Capistrano)
x
It's been more than 10 years since the swallows nested at Capistrano. (Courtesy Mission San Juan Capistrano)
It's been more than 10 years since the swallows nested at Capistrano. (Courtesy Mission San Juan Capistrano)

They just don’t go back to the mission, much to the chagrin of staff and volunteers, like Pat March, who's witnessed multiple attempts to lure the passing swallows.

"What they would do is they would put out ladybugs to attract the swallows," she says.
 
Because the birds build their gourd-shaped nests out of mud pellets, staffers would make mud puddles for them on the mission grounds.
 
"You just dig a little ditch and put water in it and it's supposed to be the 'swallows wallows,'" March says.
 
The mission even stuck fake ceramic nests beneath the eaves of buildings. But the pre-fab homes didn't work. In fact, none of the tactics did.

So it was time to hire a professional.
 
Charles Brown, an ornithologist from the University of Tulsa, immediately saw why the mission was having difficultly getting the swallows back. Forty years of urbanization he says, has led to a 50 percent reduction in the swallow population of Southern California
 
"That is the one part of North America where the numbers have been going down,” Brown says.
 
He decided the best way to attract swallows back to the mission was to play to their sociability. 
Although the swallows have yet to return to Capistrano, clusters of nests are seen in a neighborhood less than a quarter mile away. (Michael Juliano/KPCC)Although the swallows have yet to return to Capistrano, clusters of nests are seen in a neighborhood less than a quarter mile away. (Michael Juliano/KPCC)
x
Although the swallows have yet to return to Capistrano, clusters of nests are seen in a neighborhood less than a quarter mile away. (Michael Juliano/KPCC)
Although the swallows have yet to return to Capistrano, clusters of nests are seen in a neighborhood less than a quarter mile away. (Michael Juliano/KPCC)
  
"The social species - they often look to see if others have settled there and have others been successful there," Brown says. "So we have to fool them into thinking that birds have been there recently."
 
Brown made a recording of cliff swallows in Nebraska and now those Midwestern chirps fill the mission’s courtyard.
 
The sounds come from a speaker system hidden behind bushes. A lot of people are counting on this approach, not just the mission employees who get the complaints about the missing swallows, but nearby businesses, too.
 
”More swallows mean more customers,” says Dominic Mayo, who works at The Capistrano Trading Post, across the street from the mission, which is packed with swallow paraphernalia. ”We have metal swallows hand-made in Haiti. We have little swallow silver charms, swallow wind chimes, swallow mugs. We have shot glasses that say ‘Just a Swallow.’”
 
But two months into the recording experiment, no swallows have come back to Capistrano.
 
Scientists have not given up; they plan to play the recording again next spring.

And Walter Piper of Chapman University - who’s serving as Charles Brown’s eyes and ears on the ground in California - made a promising discovery in early May. In a residential area a half kilometer from the mission, he spotted about 100 swallows nesting under the eaves of several houses and apartment buildings.  
 
”This is the first indication that cliff swallows were nesting nearby the mission,” Piper says. "Bit by bit, they build these huge nests. It’s cute to see them poke their heads out of there.”

According to Piper, these birds are all potential future tenants for the mission, perhaps even as soon as next year.

You May Like

Turkey's Controversial Reform Bill Giving Investors Jitters

Homeland security reform bill will give police new powers in search, seizure, detention and arrests, while restricting the rights of suspects, their attorneys More

Audio Slideshow In Kenyan Prison, Good Grades Are Path to Freedom

Some inmates who get high marks could see their sentences commuted to non-custodial status More

'Rumble in the Jungle' Turns 40

'The Champ' knocked Foreman out to regain crown he had lost 7 years earlier when US government accused him of draft-dodging and boxing officials revoked his license More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisiai
X
Henry Ridgwell
October 30, 2014 11:39 PM
Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisia

Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Africa Tells its Story Through Fashion

In Africa, Fashion Week is a riot of colors, shapes, patterns and fabrics - against the backdrop of its ongoing struggle between nature and its fast-growing urban edge. How do these ideas translate into needle and thread? VOA’s Anita Powell visited this year’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg to find out.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.

All About America

AppleAndroid