Swallows Legend

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

As the faithful little birds wing their way back to the most famous mission in California, the village of San Juan Capistrano takes on a fiesta air, and visitors from all parts of the world and all walks of life gather in great numbers to witness the “miracle” of the return of the swallows.

At dawn on St. Joseph’s Day, the little birds arrive and begin rebuilding their mud nests, which are clinging to the ruins of the Great Stone Church of San Juan Capistrano. The arches of the two story, vaulted Great Stone Church were left bare and exposed after the roof collapsed during the earthquake of 1812.

The Great Stone Church, said to be the largest and most ornate in any of the missions, now has a more humble destiny — that of housing the birds that St. Francis loved so well.

After the summer spent within the sheltered walls of the Old Mission in San Juan Capistrano, the swallows take flight again, and on the Day of San Juan, October 23rd, they leave after circling the Mission bidding farewell to the “Jewel of the Missions.”



Actual Cliff Swallow

Frequently Asked Questions About the Swallows
1. Where are the swallows?
The Cliff Swallows begin to arrive in March from their winter home in Argentina. Between March and October they can be seen building nests in the eaves. Due to urbanization, they seek out areas near water and food sources such as a concrete under pass or bridge near creeks. They start their migration back to Argentina in October.

2. Do the swallows still come back?
The Swallows return every March. When the Great Stone Church was stabilized, the preservationists removed the nests that had been constructed over a very long period. When the nests were removed, the swallows diverted to other portions of San Juan Capistrano. Also, the swallows came back to the Mission because it was the main and biggest building. With the development of the community, there became alternative locations for them to build their nests.

Visit the Swallows Reenactment Exhibit to learn how Mission San Juan Capistrano is working with Dr. Charles Brown to lure the swallows back to nest in abundance.