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

Kurdish Party Pushes Political Gamble to Run in Turkey Poll

HDP announces it will run as political party instead of fielding independent candidates in June election, but faces tough 10 percent threshold More

Twitter Targets Islamic State

New research shows suspending Twitter accounts of Islamic State, its supporters has been effective; group, its backers are facing 'significant pressure,' says terrorism expert More

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

Majur Juac made the leap from being a refugee in Africa to a master chess champion in US, where he shares his expertise with students More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Webi
X
January 29, 2015 9:58 AM
Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video As Ground Shifts, Obama Reviews Middle East Strategy

The death of Saudi Arabia’s king, the collapse of a U.S.-friendly government in Yemen and a problematic relationship with Israel’s leadership are presenting a new set of complications for the Obama administration and its Middle East policy. Not only is the U.S. leader dealing with adversaries in Iran, the Islamic State and al-Qaida, but he is now juggling trouble with traditional allies, as White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures. For now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Saved By a Mistake - an Auschwitz Survivor's Story

Dagmar Lieblova was 14 when she arrived at Auschwitz in December 1943, along with her entire Czech Jewish family. All of them were to die there, but she was able to leave after several months due to a bureaucratic mix-up which saved her life. Now 85, with three children and six grandchildren, she says she has a feeling of victory. This report by Ahmad Wadiei and Farin Assemi, of RFE/RL's Radio Farda is narrated by RFE’s Raymond Furlong.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid