The Return of the Buzzards of Hinckley

Spring Celebration Welcoming Turkey Vultures

Turkey Vulture Having a Meal.
••• Brian E. Kushner/Getty Images

Ranking right up there with groundhogs not seeing their shadows in February and the first flower petals breaking through the snow to signal the coming of spring, there is another rite to mark the changing of the seasons, the Return of the Buzzards in Hinckley, Ohio. 

Return of the Buzzards Day

Every March 15 since 1957, the city of Hinckley eagerly awaits the return of the buzzards from their winter hiatus.

Around dawn, an official spotter and hundreds of other people with binoculars peel their eyes upward to be the first to spot the buzzards coming back to Buzzard's Roost at Hinckley Reservation in the Cleveland Metroparks.

The Start of the Hinckley Tradition

The tradition comes from the Great Hinckley Hunt of 1818 where settlers killed scores of wolves, bears and other predators that threatened their livestock. The snows came, covered the carcasses, and in the spring, after the thaw, the buzzards found a feast. Lore states that because of that great hunt two centuries ago, the birds instinctively are programmed to return to this "land of plenty" to roost. 

The town and hunt are named for Ohio landowner Samuel Hinckley, a judge from Massachusetts who founded the town.

The Buzz on Buzzards

The buzzard, a common name for the turkey vulture, is a large, graceful bird with a bald head and red beak.

No relation to the black, Old World vulture family, which includes the eagle, hawk, and kite. The buzzard is native to the Americas from southern Canada to the tip of Cape Horn. It inhabits a variety of open and semi-open areas, including subtropical forests, shrublands, pastures, and deserts. 

Buzzards are carrion feeders, their sustenance is based on already dead creatures.

Native Americans have called turkey vultures "Peace Eagles" because they do not kill prey.

While most birds have sharp vision, buzzards have a keen sense of smell. They locate decomposing remains even if hidden, and then strip it clean. They can smell a rotting carcass for more than two miles away. Their most unique feature is a digestive system that kills all virus and bacteria in the diet—and their droppings do not carry disease. If you ever have a chance to see the featherless redheads bobbing on road kill, remember they may not be pretty, but they do a handsome job of sterilizing the grounds.

Where Do the Hinckley Buzzard Go?

In the winter, since the snow covers most of their potential food, the Ohio buzzards have been known to fly as far south as North Carolina for their winters. Since the Hinckley Reservation is a protected area for the birds, every year around the same time the birds return to roost and usher in new generations of buzzards.

The Start of the Hinckley Tradition

The tradition comes from the Great Hinckley Hunt of 1818 where settlers killed scores of wolves, bears, and other predators that threatened their livestock. The snows came, covered the carcasses, and in the spring after the thaw, the buzzards found a feast.

Lore states that because of that great hunt two centuries ago, the birds instinctively are programmed to return to this "land of plenty" to roost.

The town and hunt are named for Ohio landowner Samuel Hinckley, a judge from Massachusetts who founded the town.