The Swallows of–no, not of San Juan Capistrano–of Walnut Creek

As I pulled into Trader Joe’s on South California Boulevard mid-day Saturday, I thought I might be walking into a scene of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. The air space directly above the parking lot was filled with the flapping wings of possibly 100 or more birds. And after I parked and started to walk toward the store, I caught what looked like bird after bird perched on a north-facing ledge beneath the store’s roof.

An older man had a camera trained up the side of the wall. He was taking photos of what might be something of a miracle in Walnut Creek. Forget the miracle of the Mission at San Juan Capistrano to the south–which has seen a diminishing of the flocks that nest there around St. Joseph’s Day in March, according to an article in San Juan Capistrano Patch.
Apparently, Trader Joe’s in Walnut Creek is where the swallows want to be.
(Hmm, then again the appearance of this huge flock of birds might be some sign that
the world was indeed going to end this weekend, as an Oakland-based minister publicly proclaimed–with media people like me being silly and giving him his 15 Minutes.)
Anyway,, I approached the north wall of Trader Joe’s, the ledge containing the birds, and the man taking their photos.
And, I quickly saw that the birds were not perching there. From one end to the other, that ledge had become the home to at least 50 mud nests. The birds were setting up a place to lay eggs and nurture some chicks. Some bird couples were still in the process of building their nests.
The man taking photos turned out to be, in his own way, like the Bird Lady in The Birds. If you’ve never seen this movie, she’s the older woman in the tweed suit who is the big bird expert. She suddenly appears in the Bodega Bay restaurant, telling Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor that their fears about the birds of this coastal town suddenly acting wacky, banding together and turning on humankind, have no scientific basis. Her defense of the birds comes before the birds attack the school house and blow up the gas station.
As I approached the Bird Man, I heard the Trader Joe’s swallows give off a lovely and non-threatening chorus of “‘cheep cheep”–not like the caw-caw-caw and screech of The Birds gangs of gulls and crows. The Bird Man informed me that they were swallows.
The Bird Man–no, not like the Alcatraz Bird Man–sounded like he knew what he was talking about. He lives in Walnut Creek and is friendly with the folks at East Bay Nature, the shop in the San Miguel Center on Newell Avenue that specializes in everything for feeding birds.
Anyway, he gave me his non-Rapture, non-Hitchcock-thriller explanation for the swallows deciding that Trader Joe’s was the place for their flock to build their nests.
Trader Joe’s and its parking lot is next door to Las Trampas Creek. The swallows need the mud from the creek bed to build their nests, he explained. The creek also has its habitat for insects, which the birds feed on.
So, with the Bird Man, I stood there in rapture, watching this amazing miracle of nature. The birds fluttered back and forth between the creek, diving down to bite up mud in their beaks and bringing it back to add to their honeycombed-shaped nests at the top of the wall.
We’ll have to see what happens–whether the world will end, or these birds will suddenly start swooping down and pecking at shoppers’ scalps.
Of course, Trader Joe’s management could get fed up with the white drips of bird poop that you could see starting to stream down their wall.

Barring some health issue with the flock’s presence on the wall of this grocery store, I just hope the birds get to stay, create their little families, as well as something beautiful for us all to stop and see.

2 thoughts on “The Swallows of–no, not of San Juan Capistrano–of Walnut Creek

  1. I work at the WC Tjs. It's satisfying seeing parents taking the time with their kids to “watch the birds”. Great teaching moment.


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