San Juan Capistrano

Your Guide to San Juan Capistrano

Every March 19th, on St. Joseph’s Day, the annual miracle of the “Swallows” of Capistrano takes place at Mission San Juan Capistrano.

Swallows fly 6,000 miles from Goya, Argentina to San Juan Capistrano. This migration is a sight to see that people from across the globe visit SJC to witness it. It’s a tradition that dates back to the 1930s.

The Legend of the Cliff Swallows of Capistrano

Father St. John O’Sullivan, Pastor of Mission San Juan Capistrano (1910-1933), chronicles the story of how the swallows came to call this Mission home.

In his book, he said…

One day, while walking through town, he saw a shopkeeper knocking down the cone-shaped mud swallow needs with his broomstick.

The nests were resting the eaves of his shop. As the shopkeeper was knocking down the nest, birds dart back and forth through the air. They were squealing over the wiping out of their homes.

O’Sullivan asked the shopkeeper, “What in the world are you doing?” 

The shopkeeper said that the birds are a nuisance, and that’s why he’s getting rid of them.

O’Sullivan was concerned about where the birds would take refuge. So he said to them, “Come on swallows, I’ll give you shelter. Come to the Mission. There’s room enough there for all.”

The next day Father O’Sullivan discovered that the birds become busy building their nests out the Father Junípero Serra’s Church.

Over the years, the birds nested in the Mission. But when urbanization happened, the largest building in the community where swallows nest was affected.

The nests were removed and found alternative locations for them. It resulted in a decline in the number of swallows returning each year.

In 2010, cliff swallows expert Dr. Charles R. Brown helped aid the problem.

They began to experiment on ways to lure the birds back to the nest. Today, the team’s success manifests in the many swallows returning every year.

Come to San Juan Capistrano and celebrate St. Joseph’s Day and Return of the Swallows Celebration on March 19th! They’re an annual affair, so come whenever you like.

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