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

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

US Secret Service Head: White House Security Lapse 'Unacceptable'

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after a recent intrusion at the White House: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid