Bird watcher Hiroshi Kawachi points to a building under renovation in Tokyo's Otemachi business district that used to be home to two nests of bustling and chirping swallows.
But the head of the conservation group Urban-Bird Society of Japan said none of the beloved birds were found in a recent tour.
“Swallows are unlikely to return here,” said Kawachi, 63, a former biology teacher.
Kawachi said large redevelopment projects and the architectural style of new buildings are to blame for the disappearance of swallows' nests around Tokyo.
Most of the new buildings come with no eaves as well as with glass and other slippery exteriors, making it difficult for the species to build their nests on.
In central Tokyo, 44 swallows' nests were found within a 3-kilometer radius of JR Tokyo Station in 1985, according to the group.
That encompasses the tony shopping district of Ginza to downtown Kanda.
The area surrounding the Imperial Palace, with a proliferation of greenery, provides the birds plenty of nesting material.
But the number of nests was more than halved to 21 in 1990. It further declined to 14 in 2010. The bird conservation group has surveyed the area every five years since 1985.
The Kanda district in Chiyoda Ward has environs friendly to swallows with a number of antiquated, multi-tenant buildings, according to Kawachi.
Inside a limousine garage, five nests sit on the cover of a fluorescent light.
“The chicks there will be the second batch to leave home this year,” one of the drivers said. “That hair (in a nest) is from a horse, which I suppose was carried from the premises of the Imperial Palace.”
It is a longtime practice for drivers around this time of the year to place copies of newspapers on a limo parked underneath the nests so that it will not be smeared with droppings.
In a recent hour-and-a-half tour, fledglings were spotted in three nests.
Kawachi said that a building with people bustling about makes it a perfect place for swallows to raise their chicks.
By being located so close to human traffic, the birds effectively use them as guards to shield their chicks from predators such as crows.
Kawachi said that he always makes sure to gain permission from owners or janitors of the buildings before he begins a survey.
He said, however, that he has noticed a change in people’s perception of swallows over time. Previously, he had nice chats with owners and janitors about the birds.
But he occasionally received gruff responses from them in recent years as if they wanted nothing to do with something so troublesome.
A manned parking lot where there used to be a nest was turned into an unmanned one with a security camera. There was no longer a nest there.
Although urban areas are turning out to be increasingly less hospitable to swallows, the same is occurring in some remote areas.
Ishikawa Prefecture, facing the Sea of Japan, reported that there were an estimated 37,000 swallows in 1974.
But the number plunged to about 12,000 in 2011.
Sixth-graders in the prefecture have conducted an annual count of the swallows for more than 40 years.
Along with swallows, researchers have reported that sparrow numbers in Japan have fallen by about 60 percent over the past two decades.
They blame the decline for some of the same reasons: urban sprawl and modern styles of architecture that have taken the sparrows' natural habitat and usual nesting places in towns and cities.
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