Sunday, March 15, 2015

Happy Buzzard Day!

Yep, the Day of the Dead has nothing on March 15th, which is Buzzard Day in the township of Hinckley, Ohio. According to the Hinckley Township website, the vultures for which the area is known were supposedly drawn to the area by the carcasses and waste left behind after the Great Hinckley Hunt of 1818. The 1818 hunt was touted by organizers as "a war of extinction upon wolves and bears." Ah the early 19th century was such a gentle and civilized time!

Though this story has a morbid appeal, I like the idea that the citizens were visited by a plague of carrion birds after their bout of senseless killing, it's not likely the hunt drew vultures to Hinckley Township. It's equally unlikely that the alternate legend involving the local Wyandot tribe's hanging of a woman for witchcraft at the Big Bend of Rocky River created a supernatural beacon to which the undertakers of the bird-set hearkened. Anyone who lives in the Midwest, especially in areas where there are high bluffs or bodies of water around which thermal currents build, knows the buzzard is as much a part of the local fauna as the Sycamore tree is the flora. Though they may have been more noticable after the 1818 hunt, it's doubtless buzzards were living in Medina County around Hinckley Township long before settlers entered the area.

What would lead to March 15th being declared Buzzard Day, though, was an article that ran in the Cleveland Press on February 15,  1957. A Cleveland reporter had heard the local folklore that buzzards returned to Hinckley without fail every March 15th and he penned a piece on the subject. The story stoked the imaginations of local naturalists, ornithologists, and other reporters, beginning speculation on the predicted return of the big, black scavengers. When the birds made their appearance exactly as predicted about 9000 tourists headed for Hinckley.

Today you can celebrate the return of the vultures with a pancake breakfast hosted by the Hinckley Chamber of Commerce, see exhibits put on by the local elementary school, and buy crafts commemorating the return of the buzzards. Hey, Capistrano has its swallows, Ohio has its vultures.

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