HINCKLEY — Faces old and new gathered in the cool morning air with eyes trained upward Friday at the Hinckley Reservation’s Buzzard Roost to celebrate the annual return of the area’s most celebrated bird.
Cleveland Metroparks naturalist Natalie Schroder took on the important role of official buzzard spotter this year from naturalist Sharon Hasko, who retired after last year’s Ides of March spotting.
“I am really excited. I am a little nervous about the cloud cover, but I’ve grown up loving turkey vultures,” Schroder said.
More than 50 people gathered — many brandishing binoculars — at the reservation at 7 a.m. to begin the annual watch. The watch continues until the first turkey buzzard makes an appearance.
This year, the first buzzard appeared at 7:58 a.m., coming in 20 minutes earlier than last year.
Ellen Comeau of Chardon came for the first time with friends to experience the buzzards’ return.
“It has been on a bucket list of mine for a longtime,” Comeau said.
“It is just one of those things you keep talking about it and say ‘you know what you should go’ and then the day goes by and then you’re like, ‘oh the buzzards came back.’ ”
Buzzard spotters gathered around two fire pits and enjoyed hot coffee and doughnuts as they kept their eyes peeled for the beloved birds return.
John Clawson of Westerville celebrated his 60th birthday during the event. Clawson said attending the event was not a spur of the moment decision.
“No, I was going to do it for years,” he said. “I figured (I’m) 60 today, so I better get in.”
The large walking staff of Thom Kotulak, complete with a perched stuffed buzzard on top, is a regular fixture around the fire on Buzzard Day.
Kotulak, who now lives in Parma, said he will turn 60 this year, and while he may have missed a few Buzzard Days in the past after his family moved away from Hinckley when he was in the third grade, he has been attending regularly for decades.
“You know when the buzzards get here that spring is almost here,” Kotulak said. “A buzzard, if you ever watch it fly it, it is like a phenomenally flying bird. Just the way it soars around with such little effort and goes so well.”
Schroder said that while the formal Buzzard Day event first occurred in 1957, attracting some 9,000 attendees, the return of the buzzards is much older than that.
“Since the beginning of this park in 1927, rangers had been spotting buzzards right around the time of March 15,” she said.
According to the Hinckley Township website, the turkey vulture’s annual return can be traced to the Great Hinckley Hunt of 1818.
When early settlers of the area were noticing that wild animals were killing their livestock, they decided to take action. The citizens hosted a large hunt, killing numerous wild animals. According to legend, the carcasses were left to rot over the winter, attracting the buzzards during their return next spring.
Schroder said that historically turkey vultures migrate to southern United States or further south during the fall, and return in the spring to mate.
“They don’t even make a nest. They just find an impression or even an empty spot on a rock ledge or in a dead tree and then they will lay their eggs,” she said.
A handful of turkey vultures made an appearance seconds after the first bird of the day swooped through Buzzards Roost.
Schroder said it is not unusual to see one bird fly into an area to check it out before returning and signaling for more to come.
“It is definitely just an annual tradition to welcome spring,” she said. “I mean, what better way to welcome spring than coming out seeing the sunrise and seeing some birds.”
The 62nd annual Buzzard Day will officially be celebrated 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday with events throughout Hinckley.
A pancake breakfast is set for 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Hinckley Elementary School, 1586 Center Road.
Other events throughout the day include an arts and crafts fair, historical society open house and live buzzards at the Brongers Park pavilion.
For a complete listing of events and times, visit www.facebook.com/hinckleyOHchamber.