When The Swallows Return To  . . . Calabassas

When The Swallows Return To . . . Calabassas

     We witnessed an enormous increase in the swallow population in Calabasas, Clifornia a few years ago while we were living there.  I first noticed them because of the shower of bird droppings on our cars on the front driveway in the spring.  There was speculation that global warming drove the birds 85 miles north from the Mission at San Juan Capistrano to find an environment which resembled the climate of the San Juan Capistrano of old.

     For the prior 10 years, residents of San Juan Capistrano had been scratching their heads about the pronounced decrease in the number of swallows there.  Would it ruin the tourist trade to their annual swallow return celebration?  They looked for solutions.  

In 2007, Charles R. Brown, a professor of biological science at the University of Tulsa and an expert on cliff swallows, visited the mission and offered a few ideas to help bring the birds back - including installing ceramic nests. Others piped in recorded bird sounds to attract them.  But nothing seemed to work.

     In the mean time, 85 miles north, Calabasas residents began experiencing a marked uptick in the swallow population as the winged creatures migrated and settled there.  One spring, our house was infiltrated by a family of swallows building one of their signature mud nests in the eaves above our garage.  I got out the power washer and quickly knocked down the first nest before they got too far along.  But they started rebuilding immediately.  

     I washed away the next nest the following day, and the next, and the next.  They just were not giving up.  Swallows are notoriously persistent builders.  I wouldn't have become obsessed with getting rid of them except that their droppings were ruining the finish on our cars.  We could have parked our cars in the garage of course, except that it was still filled to overflowing with useless junk from our basement when we had one in Connecticut.

     After trying several remedies including a scary looking stuffed animal in the bedroom window just below the eaves, I finally found one that worked.  It involved a sticky gel applied to their nesting area accurately named “Bird Repellent” made by, and I’m not making this up:  Tanglefoot Manufacturing.  This product discourages the birds from building their muddy structures because they have difficulty removing themselves from the eaves when they try to fly away for more provisions.  After several frustrating attempts to build, the swallows finally gave up.  A riot of swallow feathers stuck to the wall grimly warned future builders from even trying.

     From then on, the swallows were gone from our house.  Problem solved?  Not exactly.  Much to my chagrin, the winged terrors relocated to the eaves of a neighbor's house directly across the street.  The droppings on our cars continued undiminished because we seemed to be directly underneath some swallow flight pattern.  Or perhaps they were simply punishing us in revenge.  But I still beat the swallows at their nesting game that spring.

     I wonder how the missionaries at San Juan Capistrano kept their wagons clean when the swallows lived there.  

Our Florida Correspondent Tony Stanol is an occasional contributor. He lives in central Florida.

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