California Travel Tips

Return of the Swallows to San Juan Capistrano

Published on: February 28, 2012

Each year on March 19 (St. Joseph’s Day) Mission San Juan Capistrano performs a ceremony to welcome back the graceful little dive bomber birds who come to nest and start families in a spring ritual. After traveling over 5,000 miles from South America, the swallows seek dark, cool eaves protected from the sun, where they can make their little mud huts they attach to walls. The tall mission structures are ideal!

Migrating annually to Goya, Argentina in October and returning to their spring & summer home in San Juan Capistrano each March, the birds’ return roughly coincides with St. Joseph’s Day on the church calendar, March 19. The legend of the return of the swallows is documented in the book, Capistrano Nights, by Father St. John O’Sullivan, Pastor of Mission San Juan Capistrano 1910-33, who noted that the Swallows celebration began centuries ago, based on the  Mission padres observations.

With a great flutter of wings, the swallows would peck at the soil, fly with a bit of it from the old Mission lagoon to the northeast of the buildings. Using the water, they made a paste of the earth in their beaks, amid more fluttering of wings at the pond’s edge. They then flew to the eaves of the Mission to deliver their loads of mud plaster for the walls of their inverted houses, and, as O’Sullivan observed, “receive the noisy congratulations of their mates.”

The Return of the Swallows event includes:

Ringing of the historic bells
Live mariachi music
Community presentations
Special Guest Lecture On Cliff Swallows
Mission Parish School performances
San Juan Elementary performances
History of St. Joseph’s Day and Swallows Legend

Hours: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Cost: $10 for Adults, $9 age 60+, $5 ages 4-11, and free age 3 and under.  Address: 26801 Ortega Hwy, San Juan Capistrano, CA, (Reserved Seating is not offered for this event.  RSVP separately for Dr. Brown’s lecture by phone: 949-234-1321 or by email:

Other upcoming events at the Mission include Mariachis at the Mission – Swallows Parade Day on Saturday, March 24, 2012 from 2 to 4 p.m., and Mariachis at the Mission concerts on the 2nd & 4th Saturdays from 10 to 11:15 a.m.


Previous: « | Next: »
Comments are closed.

Subscribe to our newsletters!

Popular Pictures