Every year the American Cliff Swallows migrate between Argentina and San Juan Capistrano. According to legend, the birds first took refuge at the California Mission in San Juan Capistrano when an irate shopkeeper began destroying their mud nests. They have been a village tradition since 1777.
As far back as 1915 there have been stories of the swallows returning's on St Joseph's day, March 19, to these nest between the eaves and archways of the old California Mission. They stay from spring through fall before making the 6,000 mile trek back to Argentina in late October.
It became a custom for people to visit the old Mission on St Joseph's day in the hope of seeing the birds as the flew home. However, over the years, these sightings have become less and less. Speculation is that the development of the area in and around the Mission and the dwindling of their food source has led the birds to seek other places in Southern California to nest.
In 1939 a popular radio program was broadcast from the Mission grounds about the swallows return, inspiring composer Leon Rene to write the song "When the swallows come back to Capistrano". Here are a few lines from Leon Rene's popular song -
"When the swallows come back to Capistrano
that's the day you promised to come back to me
when you whispered farewell in Capistrano
that's the day the swallows flew out to sea"
The swallows however remain San Juan Capistrano's most famous citizens and the town is known as a bird sanctuary. Each year the city puts on it's most famous event - the return of the swallows - and people from around the world come to see these orange tailed migrants and enjoy the "Fiesta de las Golondrinas".
Starting as early as March 16 with 'El Presidente Ball' on Saturday from 6:30 p.m. - 11 p.m., the formal evening includes dinner, dancing, and a silent auction. Friday March 22, from 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. is Hoos'Gow Day, a long standing tradition of the festival, when the Sheriff and his deputies will arrest anyone found, in and about, the city not wearing western attire, which also includes any clean shaven men. Jail birds have to pay a fine to be released.
Reference: Getting to the Festival by train;