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San Juan Capistrano's famous swallows take up residence in Chino Hills

June 8, 2010 |  5:57 pm

Swallows

CHINO HILLS, Calif. — The famous cliff swallows of Mission San Juan Capistrano have made a new home at a ritzy country club.

The migratory birds that annually return to the historic Southern California church flew right past it this spring, choosing to make their nests at the new Vellano Country Club in Chino Hills, about 50 miles away.

Thousands of the small birds have built their mud nests in the eaves of the clubhouse, the anchor of a year-old private community of 200 homes situated around a golf course.

"I saw a few one day and then it's like they went and told all their friends, 'Hey, I found the spot,' " facility director Travis Blaylock said.

For decades, a flock of thousands of cliff swallows returned to the mission after their annual migration to Argentina, delighting locals and tourists.

The mission, founded in 1776, attracted birds when it was the tallest structure in the area, but development in southern Orange County has led the birds to seek out other places to call home, mission officials said.

"They're still spotted here," mission spokeswoman Christina Haakenson said. "But the population is definitely down due to urbanization."

The country club is located near 700 acres of rolling hills, and the golf course and nearby creek provide all the mud and bugs the small birds need to build nests and feed their young.

Club staff works daily to remove the debris and bird droppings from the area where the birds have settled -- luckily, a safe distance from the clubhouse's main entrance and the dining patio.

Blaylock said he keeps six extra shirts in his office, and has warned visitors to admire the nests and swooping swallows with their mouths closed.

The colony is expected to begin its flight back to Argentina within two weeks.

Mission officials said they hope to lure the birds -- and the tourists who return to see them each year -- back to their longtime home. They're working with University of Tulsa, Okla., ornithologist Charles R. Brown to develop an ecological plan that will help attract the birds.

RELATED BIRD NEWS:
As San Francisco's wild parrot flock grows, so does pressure on bird rescue group
Nature Conservancy floods fields in an attempt to help wildlife and farmers

-- Associated Press

Photo: Swallows attend to their young inside a mud nest above the office of a San Clemente business in 2000. Credit: Los Angeles Times

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