Saint Joseph’s Day and The Return of the Swallows Celebration

Event Info
Event Schedule

Ticket Info
Special Onsite Presentation
Nest Reenactment
Tribute to Our Veterans – Flyover
Food Vendors
Swallows Legend
Swallows Day Parade
Discover Our Historic Downtown

Event Info

St. Joseph’s Day and the Return of the Swallows Celebration is a world-renowned tradition celebrating the annual return of the famous swallows to Capistrano. This tradition was started by Father O’Sullivan in the 1920’s at Mission San Juan Capistrano, historic California landmark and home of the swallows, and is carried each year on March 19th.

Join us for this historic celebration full of tradition, community, and festivity, on Sunday, March 19, 2017 marking the return of our famous swallows to Capistrano and the coming of spring – a time of renewal and rebirth.

This annual celebration includes:

  • “Swingin’ with the Swallows” swing concert! 2:00 – 4:00 p.m.
  • Tribute to Our Nations Veterans – Flyover by WWII Planes.
  • Ringing of the historic bells
  • Live mariachi music
  • Community presentations
  • Special Guest Presentation On Cliff Swallows
  • Mission Basilica School performances
  • Flamenco dance performances
  • History of St. Joseph’s Day and Swallows Legend

Download the St. Joseph’s Day 2017 full program and schedule of events

Download a St. Joseph’s Day 2017 flyer to share with friends

See Photos of St. Joseph’s Day 2016
Photography courtesy of Blue Sky’s Studio

Learn more about the origination of this annual celebration!

Read the Legend of the Swallows of Capistrano
Watch the Mission Tone News Video about the Swallows

Ticket Information


St. Joseph’s Day is FREE for Mission Preservation Society Members!

Show your Member ID card upon entry in order to receive free admission.

Become a Member today to attend St. Joseph’s Day for free!


$15 for Adults and Seniors
$6 for Children (Ages 4-11)

Admission includes afternoon “Swingin’ with the Swallows” Concert! 2:00 – 4:00 p.m.

Discounted admission rates on event day for Veterans and Military with ID:
$9 for Adults and $8 for Seniors

Special Presentation

Field Presentations on the Cliff Swallows
By Dr. Charles R. Brown,
Professor of Biological Sciences at University of Tulsa

Great Stone Church Ruins – Location of the Swallows Nest Reenactment

Renowned Cliff Swallows Expert

Renowned Cliff Swallows Expert

Dr. Charles R. Brown, Professor of Biological Sciences at University of Tulsa, has studied more than 200,000 cliff swallows over the last 29 years. He has written numerous works on his studies of cliff swallows including Swallows Summer and Coloniality in the Cliff Swallows.

Dr. Brown has been the consulting expert on cliff swallows for Mission San Juan Capistrano for eight years. Under his advisement, Mission San Juan Capistrano conducted the Swallows Vocalization Experiment for four years, an initiative to lure the swallows to the historic site through amplified courtship calls. A new project under his direction, the Swallows Nest Reenactment Exhibit, was introduced at St. Joseph’s Day in 2016. The project still stands in place today to demonstrate what the nests looked like historically on the Great Stone Church ruins. Read more on both these projects below.

There will be two sessions on St. Joseph’s Day at 1:00 and 1:30 p.m. for the public to learn more about the famous swallows of Capistrano and the Swallows Nest Reenactment from the expert himself. Meet at the Great Stone Church Ruins for this special presentation. A 15-minute informational presentation will be followed by a short opportunity for Q&A with Dr. Brown at each session.

To purchase one of his books Swallow Summers and have it signed, visit the Mission Store Outpost (in the Historic Sala) on St. Joseph’s Day between 2:00 – 2:30 p.m. to meet and greet with Dr. Brown.

Learn More About Dr. Brown

Nest Reenactment Exhibit

Dr. Charles Brown at the Nest Reenactment Exhibit, 2016

Cliff swallows expert Dr. Charles Brown, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Tulsa, implemented Phase I — the Vocalization Project — in 2012, in which recorded courtship calls were played through a speaker on the Mission grounds to lure the cliff swallows that were flying overhead.

Phase II of the project, the Swallows Nest Reenactment Exhibit, was introduced in March of 2016. According to Dr. Brown, anecdotal evidence suggests the vocalization playbacks at least occasionally bring in passing cliff swallows that fly over the site but do not stay to nest. The next step is to increase the stimulus being presented to these passing birds by creating the nest wall.  Research has shown that cliff swallows prefer to re-use existing nests where possible, as this saves time and energy in building a nest from scratch.

Once the birds notice the plaster nests and begin using them, spillover or additional settling birds likely will lead them to building nests on the walls of the Ruins of the Great Stone Church. And once nests are built, the artificial arch would no longer be needed.

In recognizing the national goals for the proper care and treatment of the historic landmark, Mission San Juan Capistrano will ensure that this temporary experiment recommended by Dr. Brown will not obstruct sensitive views or adversely impact the historic grounds and buildings in any way.

Tribute to Our Veterans

WWII Flyover, St. Joseph’s Day 2016

For the second year, the Great Flyover returns to Capistrano with the swallows! Don’t miss this thrilling experience when WWII AT-6 airplanes fly in formation over Mission San Juan Capistrano in tribute to our nation’s veterans on St. Joseph’s Day. Join us for the Official Bell Ringing Ceremony at 11:40 a.m. followed by the Flyover scheduled at 12:00 p.m. (Flyover time subject to change due to weather.) Flyover is conducted by The Condor Squadron, an organization dedicated to preserving aviation history. Learn more about The Condor Squadron.

Veterans and active military with ID will receive reduced admission prices on St. Joseph’s Day: $9 for adults and $8 for seniors. Discounted tickets may be purchased upon entry to the Mission. General admission rates are $15 for adults and seniors and $6 for children.


Leon Rene

Did You Know?: In the same era of WWII in our country, songwriter Leon Rene composed the hit song “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano” in 1940. As this wartime era song of nostalgia and homecoming rose in the charts by artists including The Ink Spots and Glenn Miller, Mission San Juan Capistrano became known on the world stage as home to the famous swallows of Capistrano. We continue to celebrate the heritage of the famous swallows, and the song that put Mission San Juan Capistrano on the map each year with St. Joseph’s Day and the Return of the Swallows Celebration.

Join us March 19th as we celebrate the rich history of the Mission, with this year’s special WWII flyover and “Swingin’ with the Swallows” concert, along with all the other festivities.

 2017 Entertainment


Afternoon Concert – Free with Admission!
2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
“Swingin’ with the Swallows”
Featuring the Swing Cats Big Band and the Swing Kittens – Female Trio
More About the Band

“When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano” Performed by Recording Artist, Renee Bondi
With Mariachi Tapatio
More About Renee Bondi

Traditional Student Performances by Mission Basilica School
10:15 a.m. – 11:15 a.m.

Ballet Folklorico de San Juan Capistrano
11:20 a.m. – 11:40 a.m.

Journeys to the Past Native American Stories and Dances
Presented by Educator and Acjachemen Descendent, Jacque Nunez
11:45 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
More About Jacque Nunez

Duende Flamenco
12:35 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.

Mariachi de Uclatlán – University of California, Los Angeles
1:05 p.m. – 1:40 p.m.

 2017 Food Vendors

Las Golondrinas Mexican Food
Serving Mexican Food


3:16 Bakery
Serving coffee, pastries, lemonade, gelato and cookies

Swallow’s Nest Cotton Candy
Hosted by Mission Volunteers – Proceeds Support the Historic Mission

History of St. Joseph’s Day and the Swallows Legend

The swallows are said to migrate annually to Goya, Argentina in October, and return to their spring and summer home in San Juan Capistrano each March. The Swallows celebration began centuries ago when Mission padres observed that the birds’ return roughly coincided with St. Joseph’s Day on the church calendar, March 19. The celebration has achieved international prominence since then.

In his book, Capistrano Nights, Father St. John O’Sullivan, Pastor of Mission San Juan Capistrano 1910-33, relates how the swallows first came to call the Mission home. One day, while walking through town, Fr. O’Sullivan saw a shopkeeper, broomstick in hand, knocking down the conically shaped mud swallow nests that were under the eaves of his shop. The birds were darting back and forth through the air squealing over the destruction of their homes.

“What in the world are you doing?” Fr. O’Sullivan asked.

“Why, these dirty birds are a nuisance and I am getting rid of them!” the shopkeeper responded.

“But where can they go?”

“I don’t know and I don’t care,” he replied, slashing away with his pole. “But they’ve no business here, destroying my property.”

Fr. O’Sullivan then said, “Come on swallows, I’ll give you shelter. Come to the Mission. There’s room enough there for all.”

The very next morning, the padre discovered the swallows busy building their nests outside the newly restored sacristy of Father Serra’s Church. Another favorite spot was the ruins of the Great Stone Church, which was once lined with hundreds of swallows’ nests.

Fr. O’Sullivan noticed that the small birds migrated south in the autumn and returned to the Mission in the spring on St. Joseph’s Day, March 19th. Upon their arrival, the swallows immediately went to work patching up their old nests, building new ones, and disputing possession of others with vagrant sparrow families as they may have taken up illegal quarter there during the swallows’ absence.

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.”

One of Fr. O’ Sullivan’s companions at the Mission, José de Gracia Cruz, known as Acú, told Fr. O’Sullivan many stories and legends of the Mission. Acú, a descendent of the Juaneño band of Mission Indians, was the Mission’s bell ringer until his death in 1924, and spent long hours under the Mission’s famed pepper tree making various items from leather.

One of Acú’s most colorful tales was that of the swallows (or las golondrinas as he called them). Acú believed that the swallows flew over the Atlantic Ocean to Jerusalem each winter. In their beaks they carried little twigs, on which they could rest on water when tired.

Mission Swallow Policy Statement

Our signature swallow consists of an illustrative fork tail swallow, in-flight. This type of swallow art is unique to the Mission San Juan Capistrano brand because of its popularity in the 1930s and usage in vintage and historic memorabilia. The American public, and even the world at large, has come to associate the Mission San Juan Capistrano landmark as the home of these famed birds. When the Mission portrays the literal swallows, we use the photographic, authentic and real life image. In graphic form, we use the romantic version, fork tailed, in-flight swallow.

Swallows Day Parade and Fiesta de Las Golondrinas

Mission San Juan Capistrano is the Proud Major Sponsor of the 59th Annual Swallows Day Parade

The traditions of celebrating the return of the famous swallows, originally started at Mission San Juan Capistrano by Father O’Sullivan in the 1920s, have grown into a community-wide season of festivities in San Juan Capistrano. The Fiesta de las Golondrinas is a series of events, hosted by the San Juan Capistrano Fiesta Association, celebrating the return of the swallow to Capistrano. This includes the highly-anticipated Annual Swallows Day Parade, the largest non-motorized parade in the country.

The 59th Annual Swallows Day Parade will be held Saturday, March 25, 2017 beginning at 11:00 AM. The Parade takes place in downtown San Juan Capistrano on the streets surrounding the historic Mission.

Mission San Juan Capistrano is proud to partner with the Fiesta Association in keeping these traditions alive each year and celebrating the historic heritage of San Juan Capistrano. Mark your calendar and don’t miss these historic events! Join us for St. Joseph’s Day at Mission San Juan Capistrano on Sunday, March 19th and return on Saturday, March 25th for the Swallows Day Parade.

After the Parade on Saturday, March 25th, visit the Mission for live mariachis from 2:00 – 3:00 p.m.! Mariachi Nuevo Capistrano, first place winners at the 2016 Battle of the Mariachis Festival, will perform in the Mission Front Courtyard.

For more information on the Swallows Day Parade and all the Fiesta de las Golondrinas events visit

Discover Downtown San Juan Capistrano

St. Joseph’s Day/Return of the Swallow Celebration on Sunday, March 19 ends at 4:00 p.m. The Swallows Day Parade takes place on Saturday, March 25 from 11:00 a.m. until approximately 2:00 p.m. Plan your whole visit to historic San Juan Capistrano for dining, shopping and exploring before and after the festivities by checking out all our recommendation destinations!

Click here to download a San Juan Capistrano Downtown 2017 Map & Guide or be sure to pick up your own map upon your visit to the Mission.

Getting to San Juan Capistrano

Take the train to San Juan Capistrano for the Return of the Swallows Celebrations to avoid traffic and parking. The Metrolink and Amtrak both stop in downtown San Juan Capistrano. Click the links to plan your trip.

Swallows Parade Shuttle: There is a shuttle service on Saturday, March 25 for the Swallows Day Parade. Click here for all the details: Swallows Day Parade Shuttle

2017 Sponsors

Thank You to our 2017 St. Joseph’s Day & Return of the Swallows Celebration Sponsors

Community Sponsors:

Del Real Foods

Farm Fresh to You

Thank You to Our Event Partners for Their Generous Gift-In-Kind Support

Best Western
Best Western Capistrano Inn
“The Swallows Resting Place”




Shine Lighting
Shine! Lighting


Signature Party Rentals
Signature Party Rentals

Underwriting and sponsorships available for all events, for more information please contact Christine Robinson at (949) 234-1321 or email