March 2023 Animal Chaplain Article

BBUUC’s Animal Chaplain, Elizabeth DeCoux, is available for members seeking spiritual help related to animals, such as blessings, celebrations of life, prayers, attendance at euthanasia, and other services. 

March is the month that the swallows come back to Capistrano.  Mission San Juan Capistrano, in what is now Orange County, California, was founded November 1, 1776, on the land of the indigenous Acjachamen people.  Soon after the mission was built, the priests began noticing that thousands of orange-tailed cliff swallows returned to the mission every year on or near St. Joseph’s Day, which is March 19.  The birds in fact had been returning to the area each year for many centuries before the mission was built, because the open fields and wetlands near the mission’s eventual home have long been the dwelling of billions of insects essential to the survival of the cliff swallows through the spring and summer. The birds fly in elaborate patterns to catch the insects in the air. Each year on or around San Juan Day, which is October 23, the birds depart for their winter home in Argentina.   In the spring, they always return.  

The Mission, with its archways and stones, is an ideal place for the swallows to build their nests.  The wetlands fed by the two nearby rivers provide an abundance of mud, which the swallows use to construct those nests.  The mission was destroyed by an earthquake in 1812 and never rebuilt, but the ruins continue to be a favorite location for the swallows’ mud homes.  Although the city of San Juan Capistrano is legally a bird sanctuary, growth of the human population has caused large numbers of the famous birds to build their nests further out in rural areas.  Thousands of swallows, however, continue to use the mission ruins as their summer home.  

Cliff swallows can sometimes be seen in Florida, as they migrate south for the winter.  Because the birds are only passing through, it is rare to find one of their mud nests in our state, although nests have occasionally been seen under bridges near Port St. Lucie and Homestead.  

Swallows have spiritual significance.  In Greece, they have long been associated with the goddess Aphrodite.  The ancient Greeks believed gods could be reborn in the form of swallows, so treating the birds well was believed to bring good luck, especially to sailors.