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Forget The Mission; The Swallow of the 90′s Stays in Malibu

March 20, 1991

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, Calif. (AP) _ The swallows have gone Hollywood, and beyond.

The little square-tailed birds of song and lore did return to San Juan Capistrano right on schedule Tuesday, but many of their flying companions opted for ritzier roofs farther north in Malibu.

Dozens of the swallows migrating 5,000 miles from Goya, Argentina, took a sharp left turn last week and took up residence in the eaves of the library and other buildings at Pepperdine University in the swank beach community. That’s 60 miles northwest of the spot where legend places the northern end of the birds’ annual pilgrimage.

″The library seemed to be the hot spot for swallows,″ said Pepperdine spokeswoman Colleen Cason. ″They like to have an ocean view.″

Despite the swallows’ snub, about 2,000 people flocked to Mission San Juan Capistrano on Tuesday morning, scanning the blustery skies in anticipation of the annual St. Joseph’s Day return.

Local legend has it the swallows failed to arrive in Capistrano only once, in 1935, because of a storm. But mission officials maintain that even then the birds were delayed only a few hours.

″I like the story, but I’m not sure I believe in it,″ said Barbara Chittenden, a local resident. ″But it’s a lovely mission and a lovely story.″

Paul Arbiso, 97, rang the mission bell at 8:07 a.m. to signal the arrival of what bystanders described as a flock of 30 to 60 swallows.

In the past, swarms of swallows were seen over the mission, but experts said their numbers have dwindled as development takes over their nesting places and reduces their food sources.

Areas such as Malibu, with large portions of undeveloped land, have reported large swallow populations. The birds fill the trees at Pepperdine and build nests in the eaves of campus buildings.

In Valencia, 25 miles to the north of Malibu, College of the Canyons gets so many swallows that it has integrated the birds’ return into its biology program.

Still, many of the San Juan Capistrano visitors say the birds’ return, cynics aside, will always be a special event.

″Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to see the swallows come back to San Juan Capistrano,″ said 34-year-old Susan Hocking.

Tourists on the mission grounds with its weathered adobe and graceful arches, spent time pulling feed out of vending machines and tossing it to pigeons. They also browsed in the gift shop, where they could buy ceramic mugs decorated with a swallow and the phrase ″Just a swallow from Capistrano.″

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