Ready for Buzzard Day? Got your pile of varmint innards ready to welcome the return of the buzzards? Well, no, me neither. In our area, the “buzzards,” aka turkey vultures, stay year-round. However, they do leave Ohio’s colder winters and travel to warmer climes. Hinckley, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, celebrates the vultures’ return with an annual festival on the Sunday closest to March 15, the traditional return date.
In 1989, Lou and I drove to Hinckley and participated in the Buzzard Festival. Lou called it “the biggest bird-walk in the country.” We scanned the state park system’s sandstone ledges, favored by the vultures as breeding sites. We rejoiced to see a few vultures gliding in teetering dihedrals across the spring sky. We enjoyed the pancake breakfast at the local elementary school, bought buzzard memorabilia, and laughed at kids’ drawings of traveling birds (one buzzard had a little suitcase labeled “Hinckley or Bust”). A special treat was meeting Geek, a turkey vulture from the Cleveland Zoo. He stretched his big black wings and allowed us a close-up look at his wrinkled and featherless red head. I wrote a travel article, “Buzzard Daze,” that was published in The Washington Post.
After that article was published, Lou and I enjoyed a short period of being considered vulture experts. We were delighted, as we do appreciate what vultures, nature’s clean-up crew, do for all of us. Shortly after that, on my fiftieth birthday, our friend Mary gave me a stuffed buzzard as a sign I’d become an S.O.B. (Sweet Old Buzzard). I named him Geek in honor of the real Geek. My Geek, a replica of an African vulture, is a charmer who lives on one of our bookcases.
I sold quite a few travel articles to The Post, and often was able to resell a published piece to another newspaper. The “Buzzard Daze” piece was a hard sell, though. No one wanted to reprint it. The editor at the Chicago Tribune even sent me a hand-written rejection. It said, “The Washington Post?? You’re putting me on, surely. Oh well. I’m not one for bird stories whether in San Juan Capistrano or Hinckley, Ohio. When do the bats return to Dracula’s cave?”
Undaunted by snickers or sarcasm, the Hinckley Buzzard Festival continues. This year, it’s on Sunday, March 15. The Hinckley Chamber of Commerce features the festival on their website, http://www.hinckleyohchamber.com. If you decide to go check it out, give the buzzards a special welcome for Lou and me.