Will San Juan Capistrano's Swallows Return Mar. 19?

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Mission San Juan Capistrano image

American cliff swallows annually fly 6,000 miles north from Goya, Argentina to arrive at Mission San Juan Capistrano, California, on March 19, which is Saint Joseph's Feast Day.

But during the plague years of 2020 and 2021, and possibly 2022, people feared the swallows won't return on time. 

The cliff swallows are noted for their distinctive mud nests they build under the Mission's eaves and archways. The flocks traditionally leave in the fall on October 23, the Feast of Saint John.

A 1915 article in Overland Monthly magazine noted the birds' annual habit of nesting at Mission San Juan Mission San Juan Capistrano Cliff Swallow imageCapistrano from spring through fall. Since then, the swallows have been considered the "signature icon" and symbol of Mission San Juan Capistrano.

Mission bell ringer Acú used to regale visitors with a romantic tale that the swallows (las golondrinas) flew over the Atlantic Ocean to Jerusalem each winter, carrying small twigs on which they could rest atop the water along the way back to Mission San Juan Capistrano.

Composer Leon René was so inspired by the annual swallows return that he penned the song "When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano" in tribute back in 1939. The song has been recorded by such musicians as Guy LombardoGlenn Miller and even Christian crooner Pat Boone

Prior to 2020, the Fiesta de las Golondrinas was held annually in the City of San Juan Capistrano. Presented by the San Mission San Juan Capistrano Swallows Day March 19 children imageJuan Capistrano Fiesta Association, the Fiesta de las Golondrinas was a week-long celebration of this auspicious event culminating in the Swallows Day Parade and Mercado (street fair). No parade nor mercado occurred in either 2020, nor 2021. In 2022, the parade finally returned and photos can be viewed at https://www.facebook.com/SwallowsDayParade/ 

Learn about past and future San Juan Capistrano parade and events at www.swallowsparade.com. Past events include Ringing of the historic bells, Live mariachi music, Community presentations, Flamenco dance performances and History of St. Joseph’s Day and Swallows Legend.Mission San Juan Capistrano Native Americans image


When the swallows come back to Capistrano

That's the day you promised to come back to me

When you whispered, "Farewell," in Capistrano
'twas the day the swallows flew out to sea

— excerpt from "When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano" by Leon René.

Sadly, even prior to the plague years, decreasingly smaller flocks returned to the Mission in the 1990s Mission San Juan Capistrano Swallows imageand 2000s. The reduction in swallow flocks is connected to increased development in the area.

Mission San Juan Capistrano was founded on November 1, 1776. It is the seventh of the nine missions established by Saint "Father" Serra. A total of twenty-one California missions were built. 

Images courtesy of Mission San Juan Capistrano, Wikipedia and pubic domain.

Thanks for reading "Will San Juan Capistrano's Swallows Return Mar. 19?"

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Comments (2)

Ron and Alexandra Seigel
Napa Consultants - Carpinteria, CA
Luxury Real Estate Branding, Marketing & Strategy


I had no idea about the date the swallows return to San Juan Capistrano.  I learned something new.  A

Mar 19, 2022 12:05 PM
MichelleCherie Carr Crowe .Just Call. 408-252-8900
Get Results Team...Just Call (408) 252-8900! . DRE #00901962 . Licensed to Sell since 1985 . Altas Realty - San Jose, CA
Family Helping Families Buy & Sell Homes 40+ Years

Hi Ron & Alex,

Yes, it's one of those mysteries of nature, isn't it?

Mar 19, 2022 12:47 PM