Pandemic cancels famed Hinckley buzzard return celebration

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“Cancelled for March 2021” was the notice in red amid the black-and-white print on the famed Hinckley, Ohio, Buzzard Sunday website, and it needed no explaining beyond the continuing Covid-19 pandemic.

The return of buzzards to the Hinckley area’s rocky ledges and fields, south of Cleveland, each mid March has been a rite of spring for decades and it has inspired a lot of quaint lore. But the buzzards,  more formally called turkey vultures, really do not precisely appear magically, exactly, on March 15, as tradition suggests, among other things.

I must admit, I was starting to wonder about the return of buzzards to my own bailiwick along Muskellunge Creek in western Sandusky County. In recent years they usually return in mid to late February, one year as early as Valentine’s Day. But it was not till last Saturday, March 6, about 2 p.m., when I spied a buzzard soaring over the creek for my first sighting of “spring.” Now they quickly have become a reassuring, daily feature of the local skies.

These great soaring birds of prey are raptors but not birds like their hunter-cousins, the hawks and falcons and eagles. They are pure scavengers and have the unusual gift, for birds, of having a keen sense of smell, which enables them to locate a odorous, decaying meal at a half mile or more away. (Bald eagles and red-tailed hawks among others can be seen to scavenge a free meal, but they are hunters by nature.)

Perhaps 40 years ago buzzards were so people-wary that a trip to the mailbox would spook them off a roadkill feast more than a quarter mile away. Now they are so familiar and casual with humans and motor vehicles that you have to honk them off the dead raccoon or skunk to avoid turning them into roadkill themselves. And they seem to return earlier each winter, particularly the mild ones, of which there seem to be more in recent years. My suspicion about their late arrival this winter is related to the deep cold, stormy, snowy Polar Vortex spell that developed in February, keeping the birds further south longer.

World birding authority Kenn Kaufman, who is associated with Black Swamp Bird Observatory, of Oak Harbor, Ohio, notes that a handful of turkey vultures are known to hang around the Akron area all winter. Kaufman noted that some black vultures – the smaller, shorter-necked cousin of turkey vultures – and a few turkey vultures usually can be seen year-round roughly from Columbus latitudes on south. Those birds are residents, and do not migrate like others among their ranks.

Back at Hinckley, its annual buzzard celebration dates back to 1957 when 9,000 visitors flocked the township to see the return of the buzzards from their winter hiatus. The event includes an early bird hike, skits, songs and stories performed in tents or in fields, displays, crafts, photos, contests, and additional hikes. Not to mention a famed pancakes and sausage breakfast hosted by the local chamber of commerce.

This year you can order the sausage at www.hinckleychamberofcommerce.com. But you’ll have to fix it, and your stack of pancakes, at home.

One last amusing buzzard reflection, attributed to the late famed novelist William Faulkner: “You know that if I were reincarnated, I’d want to come back a buzzard. Nothing hates him or envies him or wants him or needs him. He is never bothered or in danger, and he can eat anything.”

Categories: Ohio – Steve Pollick

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