THE STORY OF THE SWALLOWS
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 the 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, as the roof collapsed during the earthquake of 1812.
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.”
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 come back 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.
Swallows Vocalization Experiment
Under Brown's direction, the Mission established a vocalization project that lures the swallows back to the Mission. The project involves speakers playing cliff swallow courtship calls that are placed behind the statue of Father Junipero Serra on the Mission grounds.
The project proved successful last year after the onset of the program. After the recordings began to be played, cliff swallows were spotted feeding overhead at the Mission several times, and a few cliff swallows flew in to investigate the recorded sounds.
"The recording is of courtship songs that males use to attract females," Dr. Brown said. "And males would be attracted too because they are very social birds. A systematic program of playing it a few times a day, when the weather is good and during the times they would be foraging, I think there's a good chance they will come in."
"I think if we keep trying long enough, eventually, some individuals will come by, they'll see the Mission and they will realize it's a good place to nest, as they did in the past."
The project this year begins on February 1. They built it, now come watch the swallows return to Capistrano.
Download official press release
Renowned Cliff Swallows Expert
Dr. Charles R. Brown
Enjoy these books by Charles R. Brown:
Coloniality in the Cliff Swallows
Click here for more information about St. Joseph's Day and the return of these famous swallows
Click here to download cliff swallows photos
Mission Swallow Policy Statement:
By mail, download donation form and mail with your gift:
Mission San Juan Capistrano Preservation Funds
26801 Ortega Hwy
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
For questions, please call Barb Beier at (949) 234-1323 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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