A: Capistrano’s famed cliff swallows are usually AWOL, so visitors often misidentify any small birds as the expected swallows. The real cliff swallows have iridescent blue backs and crowns, buff-colored bodies, red chins, brown wings, and brown tails that are not forked. Local marketing materials create confusion by often depicting fork-tailed barn swallows—a different species. But for decades the mission created more bird-related chaos by providing guests with bird feed for flocks of white doves (i.e., glorified pigeons). Countless thousands of tourists took photos with the doves and later marked their snapshots, “Swallows at Capistrano.” Before the mission stopped selling bird feed, seagulls also horned in on the action. But even the tourists didn’t mistake the squawking, web-footed gulls for swallows.
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