Posted on March 15, 2014
There is a lovely spring-is-coming tradition, where I live in Southern California, that the swallows return to Mission San Juan Capistrano every March 19. (Although the tradition hasn't been kept up of late! Birds these days! What're you gonna do?)
Well, the town of Hinkley, Ohio, has a less-lovely-sounding tradition every March 15—at least for the past 150 years. That's the date that the buzzards return from their wintering grounds.
Why do I say “less lovely”? I suppose it's ridiculous prejudice against scavengers – that is, animals that eat already-dead, decaying creatures. Of course, it's terrific that scavengers like buzzards exist—or we'd be surrounded by those dead, decaying creatures!—but buzzards are larger than swallows, and they're arguably less graceful. They flap more than they flit. And we find their bald, red-skinned heads...well, uglier than the swallows' fluffily feathered heads.
Anyway, I'm so happy that the people of Hinkley—plus around 9,000 visitors each year—give the returning buzzards a big welcome. People sip their early-morning coffee and nibble on treats as they wait with their binoculars and cameras, each hoping to be the first to spot the buzzards.
And a few people wear buzzard shirts. Even buzzard hats!
What's the difference between vultures and buzzards?
And what about turkey vultures and turkey buzzards?
The creatures who arrive in Hinkley right on time every year are turkey vultures. Turkey vultures live in North and South America; they are not closely related to the vultures of the “Old World”—Africa, Asia, and Europe—but they look a bit like them because they live in similar ways.
“Buzzards” is a word used by many in North America for turkey vultures. And some people call them “turkey buzzards”! So...several names for the same creature.
In Hinkley, however, it's buzzard all the way! Today is Buzzard Day, Sunday will be Buzzard Sunday and feature a pancake breakfast, and hometown teams often have buzzard mascots!
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