Celebrating the Return of the Swallows to San Juan Capistrano

Today is St. Joseph’s Day upon which the Catholic Church celebrates their beloved saint. At Mission San Juan Capistrano the day is extra special because it marks a beloved tradition – the return of the swallows. There’s much celebration going on today at the mission and I wish I could be there but, alas, work calls. Luckily, I was able to visit the mission recently and observe how it celebrates the cliff swallow.

The return of the swallows has been celebrated since the 1920’s. Every spring these cliff dwelling birds migrate over 6,000 miles from Argentina. In the early days of San Juan Capistrano the Great Stone Church was the largest structure in town and marked their final resting point.

Their annual return became a cause for great celebration and the mission became known around the world for its connection to the swallows. Their return made headlines…

.and even led to a hit song called “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano” by Leon René.

Though technically a love song the mission is quite proud of the tune and there is a special exhibit devoted to the famous work and its composer.

Personally, my favorite mention of the swallows is in the Jack Benny (non) hit “When You Say I Beg Your Pardon Then I’ll Come Back to You.”

Though the mission is synonymous with the swallow, in recent years their numbers were dwindling. As The Great Stone Church continued to deteriorate preservation efforts were necessary and the swallow’s nest were removed. Since the area surrounding the mission is now densely populated   the birds found alternative places to build their nests. Not wanting to lose their beloved birds the mission worked with Dr. Charles R. Brown to try to lure them back. Through playing recorded courtship calls and recreating nests their efforts were successful and the swallows are returning.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see any on my visit but I did spot some nests which were ready to be occupied. I guess I was a little too early.

Mission San Juan Capistrano is a truly lovely place and I’m glad their efforts to bring back the swallows have been rewarded. Today marks a celebration that has been happening annually for approximately 90 years and I hope it continues for many years to come.

1 Comment

  1. K Kaminski March 22, 2018 at 5:41 am

    What a great story ! Interesting & informative, I can’t wait to go.

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