It’s Time for Buzzard Day in Hinckley, Ohio!

Jill Staake

 

I was born in a small town about 20 miles south of Cleveland. It was a nice place to grow up, with lots of woods to play in and streets that kids could safely ride bikes on. It’s the kind of town that is pleasant and usually fairly anonymous, with thousands more like it across the country. Except my hometown has a difference – it has something that makes it just a little bit famous each spring. This weekend, my sleepy hometown is packed full of visitors, all there because of one thing: the annual return of the turkey vulture, locally known as buzzards.

This festival has been taking place for more than 50 years. In 1957, word got out that rangers at the Hinckley Reservation, part of the Cleveland Metroparks system, had observed the regular return of turkey vultures every single year on March 15 without fail. A newspaper covered the story, and on March 15, 1957, the first crowds gathered to see if the buzzards would appear at their roosting site. They did so, exactly as predicted, and the rest is history.

The original legend says the flocks began in the early 1800s, after the first settlers had a large hunt to make the wilderness safer for farming. The piles of dead carcasses supposedly drew the birds for miles around, and they returned each year after that. Another story says the birds began flocking after several women were hanged as witches in the area. Common sense tells us that it’s much more likely that this is simply a well-protected nesting ground for these vultures, which winter as far south as the tip of South America and return to the north to breed each year. Turkey Vultures like to nest in secluded areas that are much cooler than their surroundings (as much as 15 degrees F), and very close to the “Buzzard Roost” in the park, you’ll find Whipp’s Ledges, an area of limestone cliffs and caves that provide a great environment for turkey vulture nests.

Buzzard Day celebrations begin each year on March 15, when the “Official Buzzard Spotter” (currently Sharon Hosko, shown above with the Buzzard Day mascot) notes the time and location of the first official buzzard. (Not to burst anyone’s bubble or anything, but my family and I routinely spotted several turkey vultures each year in the several weeks leading up to March 15; no matter what the legend says, birds don’t follow anyone’s timetable. I will say that the birds were always back by March 15.) The festivities continue the following Sunday, when the park has activities for birders and families, and the local elementary school (alma mater of yours truly) hosts an All-You-Can-Eat Pancake Breakfast. The event is very popular, and the crowds can be pretty large, so go early to grab breakfast before you head over the park several miles away. Get more info on Buzzard Day 2013 (March 17) here.

Have you been to Buzzard Day in Hinckley, Ohio? It’s been at least 25 years since the last time I attended the festival, so I’d love to hear some more up-to-date accounts of this crazy little festival that, for one day each year, turns my hometown into national news. Drop by the comments below and share!

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