"When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano" is more than a legendary song written decades ago, it's a goal of Mission San Juan Capistrano's.
The birthplace of Orange County is getting ready for its annual St. Joseph's Day and the Return of the Swallows celebration on March 19, a time which the swallows will be welcomed back to what has been a spring and summer home for so many of the birds for hundreds of years.
Urbanization has resulted in fewer sightings of the birds during their annual migration from Argentina each spring in recent years. But cliff swallows expert Dr. Charles Brown came up with an idea last year that is making a difference.
Under Brown's direction, the Mission established a vocalization project that lures the swallows back to the Mission. The project involves speakers playing cliff swallow courtship calls that are placed behind the statue of Father Junipero Serra on the Mission grounds.
The project proved successful last year after the onset of the program. After the recordings began to be played, cliff swallows were spotted feeding overhead at the Mission several times, and a few cliff swallows flew in to investigate the recorded sounds.
"The recording is of courtship songs that males use to attract females," Dr. Brown said. "And males would be attracted too because they are very social birds. A systematic program of playing it a few times a day, when the weather is good and during the times they would be foraging, I think there's a good chance they will come in.
"I think if we keep trying long enough, eventually, some individuals will come by, they'll see the Mission and they will realize it's a good place to nest, as they did in the past."
The project this year begins on March 1. They built it, now come watch the swallows return to Capistrano.
— From a Misison San Juan Capistrano press release.