Swallows annual return to San Juan Capistrano up in the air

Capistrano Swallows

Michael Juliano/KPCC

Though Mission San Juan Capistrano is popularly known for the annual return of swallows, the birds have made their nests elsewhere in recent years. But a bird expert is trying to 'seduce' the birds to return.

Some folks in San Juan Capistrano Tuesday have their eyes on the skies, looking for the annual return of swallows. The bird-watching is part of a yearly celebration. But it’s up in the air whether the migratory guests of honor will show.

The tiny, fork-tailed songbirds don’t care much for the cool weather we’re having. In past years, they’d flock from Argentina, Uruguay and Southwestern Brazil to Orange County and amuse spectators. But this time around? People probably won’t see many, if any.

“It’s cloudy and cool and generally in those conditions, the birds are out feeding typically very low over the ground and fairly hard to see," says bird expert Charles Brown.  The professor, who teaches biology at the University of Tulsa, is visiting Mission San Juan Capistrano where he conducts experiments in luring swallows.

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Last year, Brown set up speakers and blared sweet songs for weeks to seduce the birds. It seemed to work some. Enthusiasts spotted a nesting colony not far away. Brown is trying it again this time around. His team started earlier than last year.

“We started it in the first of March and we’ll run it for another six weeks," said Brown. "And hopefully we’ll have better luck.”

Aside from the weather, Brown said the swallows don’t like clutter. The growth in the area – urbanization and planting of trees – tends to keep them away. He said the swallows prefer wide, open spaces and are probably looking for other places to nest.

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