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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Sometimes the Capistrano Swallows are a bit off


Cliff Swallow
You’ve probably heard of “the swallows returning to Capistrano”, like clockwork.  It was made famous in a '40s song.  St. Joseph's Day is the magic date for them to arrive at the old mission in California, and roost.  However, recent observations have them returning precisely on the stipulated day only twice. Once it was one day early. In 1993 they appeared three days early. In 2002 they arrived a whole week ahead of time, and in 1997 they were 10 days late. Nowadays, very few roost there at all.
The Cliff Swallows are affected by headwinds, tailwinds, and all the other intricacies of changing weather patterns in their migratory flight from South America. Also by the character of local land development. Not by superstition or faith. Very recently, the bulk of the swallows have not been roosting there at all, preferring nearby sites including highway underpasses and a high school. You see, development in the vicinity of the mission has changed the scenery very much. San Juan Capistrano used to be in the country; now the area is very "suburban".

Many Goldfinches have left north Texas by now, but some remain here. They'll head north sometime soon, and return again next fall. My advice is to leave your thistle (or "nyger") feeder up a little longer to let these stragglers eat. Hang a feeder next to it filled with sunflower seed (I prefer black-oil sunflower). The remaining Goldfinches will always have something to eat; sunflower if and when the thistle is gone; and our year-'round birds (Cardinals, Chickadees etc.) will continue to eat sunflower too.

Incidentally, the small black seed known as thistle (or "Nyger") is the only birdseed that does not stay viable for the following year.


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