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Swallows dig in for the long haul at their Auburn “Capistrano”

Netting moves bird-nest construction to other areas of the Placer County Courthouse
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The Placer County Courthouse swallows are finding ways to work around netting put up this winter to prevent them from nesting at the Auburn landmark. The birds are building nests in nooks and crannies of the 111-year-old Maple Street building, working around $36,000 in netting installed recently to keep them away and prevent damage to the historic brick structure. For Linda Lareau, owner of the Courthouse Coffee shop across the street, the plucky persistence of the little birds has been a joy to watch. She compares them to a flock of fast-moving butterflies. “For seven years, whenever they return, it’s been like a little celebration – a mini-Capistrano,” Lareau said. “I say, ‘Let them return.’” She has a bell outside her front door and rings it when the birds return, mimicking the ringing of the bells of Capistrano and the celebration in that Southern California city every spring. Lareau’s welcome back for the birds is shared by others. Attorney Tim Woodall, whose office is nearby, said the swallows don’t bother him. “I like to watch them fly around,” Woodall said Wednesday. But Lareau said the number of returning birds appears to be down from past years, despite the frenzy of activity around the courthouse as the swallows feverishly work with mud, straw and other materials to build their nests. “It’s a fraction of what was here before – maybe a quarter,” Lareau said. “What I loved about it was that it was a picture of nature.” As Lareau talked, an open convertible drove by and the passenger pointed to the avian activity around the courthouse to the driver. People go out of their way to visit the courthouse to watch the birds, even taking pictures, she said. One of the chief reasons for the netting was to prevent bird droppings from becoming a public health problem through insect infestations inside buildings, Facility Services Director Jim Durfee said last week. The nests and acidic waste were also causing breakdown of the brick grouting, he said. In the past, nests were left up in the spring and summer. After the birds left for a winged migration to South America in the fall, power washing knocked the 100 or more nests down and sprayed away caked on bird feces. “I say taken the netting down and let them be – and do a better job of cleanup,” Lareau said. Or invent a better bonding agent for the brick to withstand bird droppings. “If they can put men on the moon, why can’t they develop stronger grouting,” Lareau said. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.