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Swallows nesting on broken convenience store sign captivate passersby in Japan

Swallow chicks nesting on the L of a Lawson sign open their mouths wide to receive food from a parent in the city of Matsuyama on July 1, 2021. (Mainichi/Tomoe Saito)

MATSUYAMA -- Five swallow chicks nesting on one unlit letter of a convenience store sign have captured the hearts of passersby in a shopping area near one of Japan's oldest hot springs, a scene observed at the shop for the first time in two years.

    The swallows are nesting on the L of a Lawson convenience store sign in the western Japan city of Matsuyama in Ehime Prefecture, home to the Dogo Onsen hot spring said to be the oldest in Japan. The L alone is unlit, but the store doesn't plan to fix the sign, and is instead keeping an eye on the birds, which chirp in unison when their parents return with food, drawing comments from locals on their cuteness.

    The chicks were first spotted in late June, and they are expected to leave the nest around mid-July. Last year the store was closed during the coronavirus state of emergency declared in the prefecture. Five eggs were laid in the nest, but the parents abandoned it, possibly because the absence of people made it easier for crows -- a natural enemy of swallows -- to get too close. Those eggs did not hatch.

    The swallows are pictured in their nest on the Lawson convenience store sign in Matsuyama on July 1, 2021. The light on the L remains out, to allow the birds to nest there. (Mainichi/Tomoe Saito)

    This year, the spread of the virus also resulted in a decline in foot traffic, but the store stayed open, hoping to welcome new chicks.

    One of the parents that returned this year is thought to be a swallow born in the nest two years ago -- apparently the least skilled of those chicks at flying. It was identified by the white speckles on its back.

    The Lawson Dogo Haikaradori store stands in the Dogo shopping area, which is gradually seeing more traffic, in the city of Matsuyama on July 1, 2021. (Mainichi/Tomoe Saito

    "We've kept the nest here, so it probably felt at ease, thinking 'It's safe here,'" said delighted 49-year-old store owner Shusaku Yoshimoto. "I never imagined they'd come back after a year's absence and lay eggs again."

    When the chicks get bigger, they will begin to learn to fly around their nest -- a symbol to cheer up the shopping area, which has seen customer numbers drop off during the pandemic.

    (Japanese original by Tomoe Saito, Matsuyama Bureau)

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