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, US Splits Deepen Over Support for Kurdish Militants

    Ankara summons American ambassador to protest remarks by State Department spokesman who said Washington does not consider Syria's Kurdish Democracy Union Party (PYD) a terrorist organization

    Obama Seeking $19 Billion for National Cybersecurity

    Move, touted as attempt to build broad, cohesive federal response to cyberthreats, calls for increase in cybersecurity spending across all government agencies

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire, who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clownsi
    X
    February 09, 2016 8:04 PM
    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay Prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Middle East Affairs and national security.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.