Building A Home for Swallows
May 03, 2012
By Jack Marcus
Class of 2012
For nearly eight years now, the Cliff Swallows have made the Ojai Valley School Upper Campus their home in late spring.
And for nearly eight years, Ojai Valley School has done what many others in the Ojai Valley do – prevent the swallows from nesting, forcing them to relocate and destroying their mud nests.
But this year OVS is doing something that has never been done before to help protect the little brown birds.
Long-time teacher and Outdoor Education Director Crystal Davis has spearheaded the idea to build swallow boxes, which will act as nesting sites for the migratory birds.
OVS has always been a school that prides itself on its connection with nature and its efforts to preserve it on and off the campus, and the Outdoor Education program this year has been able to bring that idea to life.
“We wanted to imagine a place that replicates their original and preferred nesting sites,” Ms. Davis said. “They like right angles, so our boxes are full of them.”
Constructed by Outdoor Education students and the maintenance staff at the Upper Campus, the boxes are designed to attract the birds.
They have been coated with stucco to provide more grip and wood. They also have been raised high enough off the ground to prevent predators from getting to the nests.
The maintenance crew has placed three of these structures around campus – one behind the girls’ dorm and two at the stables where the swallows will have a ready source of mud from the creek.
Maintenance worker Santiago Soriano was a key to the project, building all three of the boxes and doing substantial research about swallows to try to build the best possible nesting conditions for them.
Mr. Soriano believes it is the job of local residents to help the swallows thrive.
“We prevent them from nesting where they want to nest, it is our duty to give them another option,” he said.
The Cliff Swallow does what many people wish they could.
During the winter season they migrate south and spend their time in western South America. As winter breaks in Southern California, the birds return north to build their mud nests and raise their young.
True to the OVS philosophy, students and faculty came up with the ideas for where to put the nests and how to make them.
Outdoor Education student Jack Beverly loves the project.
“The swallows are very good for the environment; they eat bugs and other insects and it’s really great to finally help them out and build them new nests,” Jack said.
This project has not gone unnoticed.
Cornell Universities Ornithology Research Center, which is one of the best in the country, is eager to see the results of the Swallow Box Project.
Ms. Davis was surprised by the amount of enthusiasm from the university and its request to receive all the information the school learns from the project.
“This is a new angle to approach the swallows,” said Ms. Davis. “One that leaves both parties benefitting from it.”
OVS’ project to build nesting sites for Cliff Swallows is one of the first and only projects to help relocate nesting sites on such a large scale.
The swallows have not yet arrived in force; Ms. Davis has some theories as to why. She believes that they may just be late in coming or that they could be up in the Sespe Wilderness, fattening up before they descend on the valley to nest.
Either way, whether for this year’s nesting season or the next, Ms. Davis said she is thrilled to see this project come to fruition.
“We are building an alternative for them, we can be proud of the work we are doing knowing we are helping an entire colony of swallows,” Ms. Davis said.