All my life, the swallows returning every March 19th to San Juan Capistrano, California, has been a symbol of the strength of nature and of how some things never change. Except they do and, what's more, maybe it never happened anyway, or, even worse, we may be responsible when things do change.
For over a century, St. Joseph's Day annually saw the return of the swallows to the Mission of San Juan Capistrano, where they would rebuild their nests in the ornate structures. They were preceded each year by the slightly earlier return of the "scout swallows." There is a local ordinance against destroying swallow nests, which are made from mud.
Where the swallows returned from was long a mystery; now it is known that they journeyed 15,000 miles from Goya, Corrientes, Argentina. They took thirty days to make the trip, flying from dawn to sunset, and did not eat or drink during that time.
But, according to a Los Angeles Times story, the swallows did not return in 2009; in fact, they have not come back for some years. The mission bells still ring and the Festival of the Swallows is still held, but there are no honored guests.
There are doubters who say that the birds never did arrive in such numbers or come back every year, claiming it was just a case of successful hype. Still, the people of San Juan Capistrano have tried to get their swallows back; yet nothing, including luring them with ceramic nests (which were deemed as "not historically accurate" and removed) has worked.
Some say the nests were knocked down when the mission was undergoing preservation work. The building of shopping centers and homes where previously there were no man-made structures is also a likely cause for the failure of the swallows to return and for a "general reduction in all bird numbers" in Southern California.
More about the SJC Swallows
This article was originally published in May 2009, and has been updated for the
June 2011 paperback release.
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