“To cherish what remains of the Earth,
And to foster its renewal,
Is our only legitimate hope of survival.”
These creatures found a haven
They return to it every Spring
When they’re spotted in the sky
Such joy, to so many, they bring
They begin leaving Argentina
Around the middle of February
They incredibly fly 7,500 miles
Their arrival filling many with glee
Legend tells of a very compassionate man
Both a nature lover and a Franciscan padre
Who saw a shopkeeper destroying their nests
So he invited these birds to follow him one day
He very quickly led them to the Mission of San Juan Capistrano
Where they now began building their homes, in its old adobe walls
And now, each and every Spring, they return here on St. Joseph’s Day
Since this kind missionary had told them – here, there was room for all
The Old Spanish Mission of San Juan Capistrano has become world famous as the haven of these incredible Cliff Swallows, and I’ve journeyed there many times to visit them.
In 1930, Father St. John O’Sullivan published the ‘Legend of the Swallows Return’ in a collection of stories called ‘Capistrano Nights.’ His story says that after the town grew up around the Mission, one of the padres noticed a storekeeper angrily sweeping down the conical shaped swallow nests, and chasing these tiny birds away. This kind padre soon took pity on these creatures, and he invited them to the old Mission, where there was plenty of room for them all.
And these tiny birds have been returning to this old Mission every year since, knowing their young are still safe within its old adobe structure.
Bird trackers eventually identified Goya, Argentina as these swallows’ winter home, and the starting point for their yearly migrations north. From here, as the swallow flies, the distance is 7,500 miles, and by the time they make their return flight to Argentina next October, they will have completed an incredible round-trip journey of 15,000 miles.
These birds have been observed leaving Goya at daylight on the 18th of February, in successive flight formation, arriving at the old Spanish Mission about the 19th of March.
And although their numbers, like so many other bird species today, are very sadly decreasing, as are the very insects they feed to their young, their arrival at Capistrano is still quite a spectacular sight to see.