The Return of the Buzzards

February 22, 2016
The Return of the Buzzards

A look into the annual event Cleveland birders love

By Danielle Frezza

At the Cleveland Metroparks Hinckley Reservation, you can find a unique type of birder on March 15.

As they do each year, this group of avid bird-watchers stands in a circle, equipped with themed apparel and makeshift shrines, anticipating the annual return of the turkey vultures, better known in Cleveland as "the Buzzards."

Half asleep and bundled in several layers--none of which featured avian embellishment--holding my half-spilled mug of tea, it must have been obvious that I was not a regular here.

A man with binoculars around his neck and a stuffed toy vulture strapped to his shoulder asked if I was a first-timer (guilty as charged) and smiled down at the little girl holding his hand, his granddaughter. Painted on her cheek was a picture of a black bird with a red head and beak. She looked around at everyone chatting and laughing, half-confused, half-intrigued. A new experience for her, as well.

"See?" he told her, "This young lady is missing school, too."

And I felt immediately jealous, cheated, that I missed twelve years' of chances to cut class on a March day.

Among the rest of the group were people clad in turkey vulture t-shirts and sweatshirts--cool vintage items of 100.7 WMMS, Cleveland radio's rock station, aptly nicknamed (you guessed it) "The Buzzard," which features a tough-looking cartoon bird with shaggy blond hair as its mascot. Some people were even wearing big, plush, buzzard-shaped hats.

Shortly before 8:00, the man in the biggest and plushiest one--whom I would call the "Grand Poobah," but he calls himself the "Official Spotter"--pointed to the sky and shouted out, "First buzzard!"

The rest of us craned our necks, and I even caught myself gasp to see a huge black bird with an imposing, jagged wingspan glide into sight.

As it landed and perched itself on a tree 100 feet away, it revealed its red, featherless face, and the crowd cheered and applauded. It was definitely a buzzard. Soon, I'm told, there would be an entire venue (a group of vultures) situated here at the "Buzzards' Roost" area of the Metroparks. As the enthusiasts gazed through their binoculars and cooed, the spotter stepped up to the wooden "Buzzard scoreboard" and wrote "7:44"--the official time of this year's return.

The turkey vulture makes for a fitting mascot for the Ides of March; it's a scavenger that feeds on dead things. But in a curious contrast, the buzzard represents spring eternal for Clevelanders, the promise of hot summer days after a snowy winter. And to see this flock of bird-lovers swap stories and binoculars, flapping their arms and cheering, I can see that, come rain or shine, spring is finally near. And I'll caw to that!

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