On March 15 of every year, the swallows return from their winter residence in Argentina to the "Jewel of the Missions," Mission San Juan Capistrano in Orange County, California. On that day, the city of Capistrano begins the celebration of "Swallows Week," which this year sets its 50th observation of this event, although these little birds have performed their mighty migration since before the mission was built by Father Junipero Serra in 1776.
Fireworks, Jail-'em-and-Bail-'em, street vendors, placards and banners, Mariachis in the Mission, entertainment and guided tours on the Mission grounds by Docents dressed in colorful caballero costumes, as well as a parade in which Ortega Highway--the main road leading into town from I-5 South--is blocked off from 6:00 AM until 6:00 PM, are a few of the ways in which the townspeople celebrate this event which has put their home on the map. Usually held on March 15, designated as "Swallow's Day," the parade was postponed until March 29 this year because it coincided with St. Patrick's Day, St. Joseph's Day, and Holy Week, and will be held today beginning at 10:00 AM.
In an ironic turn of events, many of the little birds no longer nest at the Mission--which is one of the twenty-one churches established by the Spanish along California's El Camino Real (the "Royal Road" which stretches 600 miles along the California coast)--because of the presence of the very tourists who have come to see them. The Mission Gift Shop, as well as Ortega's Capistrano Trading Post (located across Camino Capistrano from the Mission) are filled with swallow souvenirs for those who wish to say they were there on the day the swallows returned--items ranging from 14 carat swallow pendants to windchimes, tiles, and trivets with hand-painted swallows on them to "singing" swallows from the Audubon Society. Free pamphlets with the story of the swallows on it are also handed out and CDs of the famous song, "When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano, that's the Day I Pray that You Come Back to Me," are also available.
Since the Trading Post is my domain (my boss is an 8th-generation Spanish trader), I look forward every year to the excitement of the event, and also fell awe that these little creatures can travel so far driven by instinct alone. Fewer swallows return each year, their admirers driving them to nest elsewhere, but for now, the swallows still come back to Capistrano.