The swallows' return to may be legendary, but their numbers have dwindled in recent years, prompting workers to come up with creative solutions to make the tall ruins of the their home once again.
Workers have made a recording of swallow mating calls, and are sending it out to the heavens via loudspeaker, hoping to draw more swallows to their orginal Orange County dwelling spot.
Already, the unusual move has been deemed a success.
After a week of the experiment, cliff swallows were seen flying into the ruins. “That wasn’t happening for a while, so I got really excited. So we are going to keep watching and be hopeful, and hopefully these birds will be welcomed home,” said Mechelle Lawrence-Adams, executive director of the mission.
Lawrence-Adams was initally skeptical about the idea of using electronic mating calls to draw cliff swallows back to the mission. This is why the mission involved a scientific approach with University of Tulsa biology professor Charles Brown, an expert on swallows.
The electronic bird calls are positioned at the highest points on the mission to mimic the familiar environment of the walls of a cliff, Lawrence-Adams said of Brown's recommendation. This non-invasive approach, which Brown recommended, seems to be attracting some birds.
“So we are very optimistic about it,” said Lawrence-Adams.
As legend has it, cliff swallows’ annual migration from their winter home in Argentina to San Juan Capistrano coincides with St. Joseph’s Day, March 19.
But what was once a haven for swallows that could not find another place to nest in the spring, is now left with only .
The Great Stone Church was once the tallest building in the area, when it was founded in 1776, and was attractive to cliff swallows. Now, because of around the area, and with other ponds becoming more available, swallows have made their home .
Both the Northwest Open Space at Camino Capistrano and Oso Road and the Chino Hills Vellano Country Club have nearby ponds with mud and bugs perfect for a swallows' niche, the Orange County Register has reported.
Thousands of swallows were making their nests to Chino Hills, according to a 2010 Orange County Register article. The paper reported a noticeable migration 50 miles north of San Juan Capistrano.
This year, residents who walk the creek trails all across San Juan Capistrano, including San Juan Creek, Trabuco Creek and Oso Creek may see where many of the swallows have chosen to nest this go-around.
“The San Juan Capistrano community can always see the swallows if they take the bike trails going down to the beach, no doubt about it. I guarantee that,” said Lawrence-Adams.
Once more swallows return, the mission staff plans to keep them coming back each year by keeping their nests safe.
According to Brown, the second step for helping the swallows move back into the ruins of the Great Stone Church is just as important as the initial step to attract the cliff swallows to make nests, and that is to fumigate the nests.
During this year's St. Joseph's Day celebration at the mission, community members who attended a lecture hosting Brown learned that the nests that are not have parasites that kill the baby birds. The nests have to be maintained for the swallows to feel that this is a safe home to return to.
For San Juan Capistrano residents, the swallows are what Lawrence-Adams referred to as “intertwined with our modern-day history and our identity. The cliff swallows have an important role as the ambassador for the mission, capturing the public’s attention to care about the mission.”
Once visitors get to the mission, the mission staff hopes to give them an experience that will help them see the education linked with preservation, guiding visitors to feel inspired by the beauty of the grounds.
Although there are hopes for an online swallow camera to be the next step, the mission workers want to give the cliff swallows the space they need to rebuild their home.
“It’s a home to the birds and to other species, and we need to protect it for everybody,” Lawrence-Adams said.