If you routinely read my ramblings, you know it’s no secret that Joyce and I both like turkey vultures; maybe that’s a testament to our personalities, I don’t know. A few years back, we learned of an old tumble-down building in the middle of a field not far away that had been a vulture nesting site for years. That summer we followed that vulture mother and her 2 chicks until the chicks fledged. We have lots of good vulture pictures in our archives. I’ve done more than one column on turkey vultures, about how amazing birds they really are if you can past the thought of their dietary preference, which makes them so valuable in our ecosystem as God’s clean-up crew.
Vultures are migratory, heading for Central and South America each fall and returning to our area from mid-March to early April, depending on the weather. This year we’ve been seeing 1 or 2 at a time now for a couple weeks. Favorite roosting places for turkey vultures are the old water towers that some small towns still have. In McPherson, KS a spring or summer evening will often find many roosting on the handrail of the old water tower. In Marion, KS a couple hundred routinely spend days soaring over the town and roosting on the water tower hand rail at night. The ultimate tribute to turkey vultures can be found in the northeastern Ohio town of Hinckley.
A legend dating back to the turn of the century has it that the famous “Buzzards of Hinckley Ridge” arrive in the town of Hinckley Ohio every March 15th like clockwork. In the northeast corner of Medina County, just south of Cleveland are a series of cliffs and caverns known locally as old Whipp’s Ledges that are a popular roosting and nesting area for turkey vultures. So popular was the legend that in 1957 the first Sunday after March 15th was dubbed Buzzard Sunday and a festival was planned around the event that still takes place today.
Along with the legend of the vulture’s timed arrival is the story of how that came to be. The story says that when that area was first settled, farmers began losing livestock left-and-right to bears and wolves that were native to the area. Finally the farmers had enough and one fall, a huge mass hunt was organized resembling the coyote drives once popular here in Kansas where hundreds of hunters form a circle surrounding an entire section or township and slowly walk toward each other, tightening the circle. As the circle tightened, wolves, bears, deer and most wildlife in the area were driven toward the center of the circle, where they were shot. The story goes on to say that after everything was skinned and butchered and all useable meat and hides were taken, the dozens or perhaps hundreds of resulting carcasses were left there for the winter. In the spring, returning turkey vultures were drawn to the scent and sight of the thawing carcasses, and once there to feed, the numerous natural nesting sites among the cliffs and caverns kept them there for the summer and to this day keep them coming back each year.
Sharon Hosko, Manager of Brecksville Nature Center in Cleveland’s metro area, and official “Buzzard Spotter” for Cleveland Metroparks, told me she saw 19 turkey vultures this year on March 15 when the vultures were “officially” welcomed back to Cleveland Metroparks. On Buzzard Sunday the 18th, 41 birds were spotted by her and 28 were seen at the second official spotting station at Hinckley proper. She has helped with the event since 1997 and the most buzzards she has seen in one day were 72 as they arrived on Buzzard Sunday in March of 2011. She estimates possibly 100 vultures remain to call the Hinckley area home for the summer each year.
Turkey vultures are amazing birds, and I often wonder what it would be like to glide and soar above the earth like they can. Everyone likes a good legend, and who knows what about Hinckley’s past that drew the buzzards there in the first place is true, and how much is just legend. One thing for sure is that vultures do arrive in Hinckley Ohio every March 15, and that they continue to arrive every year on Buzzard Sunday also. As an ex-Buckeye myself, I hope to take Joyce there some year to enjoy the spectacle, even if it means Enjoying Kansas Outdoors from afar.
Steve can be contacted by email at [email protected]