Bob Hinkle of Cleveland Metroparks helps Bridgett Mahoney, 9, look for buzzards in Hinckley, Ohio. Dozens of enthusiasts watched and waited in the morning chill for the first 'official' spotting.
HINCKLEY, Ohio - To the relief of bird watchers and business boosters alike, the first "officially" spotted buzzard of 2007 glided smoothly over the treetops yesterday in Hinckley, marking the 50th anniversary of the gimmicky vigil.
The buzzards, returning from winter down south, mean money in the bank for Hinckley. The community has crafted an all-buzzards, all-the-time theme in honor of the carcass-loving birds with black feathers, red heads, and wing spreads of up to 6 feet.
There are buzzard-named businesses, a Sunday pancake breakfast to mark the return of the buzzards, and T-shirts with "I saw the return of the buzzards" for sale.
"They've always come back," said Bob Hinkle, the "official buzzard spotter" for the Cleveland Metroparks. He admitted some nervousness as the wait stretched out and a crowd of about 50, standing at the edge of a broad meadow, dwindled in frustration in this community about 20 miles south of Cleveland.
Randy Scott, 53, and Beverly Doyle, 65, came on a three-day outing from St. Louis to do what the town likes best: watch for the gangly birds and spend some money.
"I've wanted to come here for years," said Ms. Doyle, who had heard mention of the annual event on NBC's Today show.
Even before the first "official" buzzard spotting at 10:43 a.m., Mr. Scott was impressed by nature's array of rain, snow, sleet, and a reported tornado in the area in a 12-hour stretch.
The birds can have a wing spread of up to 6 feet.
Mark Duncan / AP Enlarge
Apparently unfamiliar with the March 15 code of "official" buzzard sightings, Mr. Scott said he understood their arrival wasn't dependent on the calendar. "It has to do more with air temperatures and wind currents," he said out of earshot of the official spotter.
Tom Barczyk of Cleveland, celebrating his 56th birthday, stables a horse down the road and admitted seeing an occasional buzzard before March 15.
"We've seen them, but not officially," said Mr. Barczyk, underscoring a theme used by successive official spotters to deflect smart-alecky questions about early buzzard arrivals.
Mr. Hinkle said he felt no pressure from the Chamber of Commerce as a vigil that began at sunrise stretched to three hours before the first sighting.
"They know it's a delicate thing to find the buzzards," Mr. Hinkle said.
Ron Garapick, a township trustee, had no official figures but said the buzzards and related events bring a lot of visitors to Hinckley and its half dozen or so stores, including a restaurant, doughnut shop, and beverage outlet. The big crowd, perhaps 3,000 if the weather is good, is expected for Sunday's pancake breakfast and related events.
People looking forward to spring help generate "buzz" for Hinckley's big day, according to Susan DeFago, a John Carroll University professor who used to take her children to Buzzard's Day for pancakes. She never visited Hinckley before March 15 to check for early arrivals so "the myth is intact for me," she said.
By tradition, buzzards have returned to Hinckley each March 15 since 1819, when they were attracted by thawing carcasses of livestock predators killed months earlier by farmers.