DBrown2016

Nest Reenactment Exhibit

Open Daily 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (Limited Time Exhibit)
Location: On the east side of the Ruins of the Great Stone Church

The miracle of the “Swallows” of Capistrano takes place each year at Mission San Juan Capistrano, on March 19th, Saint Joseph’s Day. As the little birds wing their way back to the Mission, the village of San Juan Capistrano welcomes visitors from all parts of the world to welcome the return of the swallows to the Capistrano Valley. Read the Legend of the Swallows.

Did You Know?
Mission San Juan Capistrano, under the leadership of Father St. John O’Sullivan (1874-1933) began celebrating the return of the swallows on St. Joseph’s Day, March 19 in the early 1930s.

The number of cliff swallows nesting at the Mission has declined gradually over the years as urbanization simply gave the birds more options to build their nests. The Mission continues its quest to encourage the cliff swallows to nest again at the historic landmark like they had for decades.

In 2012, swallows expert Dr. Brown called for Phase I, the Vocalization Project, in which recorded courtship calls were played through a speaker on the Mission grounds to lure the cliff swallows that were flying overhead. According to Dr. Brown, evidence suggests the vocalization playbacks occasionally bring in passing cliff swallows that fly over the site but do not stay to nest.

In 2015, Dr. Brown recommended Phase II to increase the stimulus being presented to passing birds. This step necessitated the construction of a replica wall of man-made nests in a colony-like setting similar to one that existed on the Ruins of the Great Stone Church prior to its 1990s stabilization. Research shows that cliff swallows prefer to re-use existing nests. Once the birds notice the plaster nests and begin using them, spillover or additional settling birds may build nests on the walls of the Ruins of the Great Stone Church.

On March 19, 2016, Mission San Juan Capistrano unveiled Dr. Brown’s Phase II.   Research has shown that cliff swallows prefer to re-use existing nests where possible, as this saves time and energy in building a nest from scratch. Once the birds notice the plaster nests and begin using them, spillover or additional settling birds likely will lead to them building nests on the walls of the ruins of the Great Stone Church. And once nests are built, the artificial wall arch will no longer be needed.

“Dr. Brown’s recommendation is not only an extension of his previous experiment we’ve been carrying out for the past few years, but also a great opportunity to re-introduce generations to the past,” said Mechelle Lawrence Adams, Executive Director of Mission San Juan Capistrano. “This reenactment allows us to show people the scope and extent of what it was like when the swallows were nesting here in abundance.

“While it’s an experiment rooted in science, it’s also an opportunity to celebrate history and to promote the historic journey of the swallows’ return from Goya, Argentina.  We are grateful Dr. Brown is helping us make a difference in preserving the past, as well as celebrating it.”

Visit the Swallows Reenactment Exhibit while it’s in action for a limited time!