Snow obscuring roadkill? No problem, buzzards still sighted

HINCKLEY, Ohio (AP) - A fresh snowfall may have obscured the roadkill but didn't deter the return of the buzzards officially spotted Wednesday for the first time this season, renewing a tradition rich in 19th century folklore.

The first buzzard was spotted at 8:08 a.m. by Bob Hinkle, the "official spotter" for the Cleveland Metroparks. Within minutes, three more buzzards flying from the southeast appeared over a park tree line in blustery, 27-degree weather.

"We've seen crows, Canada Geese, Great Blue Heron, Cooper's Hawk this morning but it was 8:08 for the first buzzard," Hinkle said.

Hinkle said the 4-inch overnight snowfall might have affected buzzard breakfast plans.

"The buzzards need to find their food. If it's really snowy, it's tough times for buzzards -- they can't find the roadkill," he said.

Most likely the buzzard flock could have returned from migration even sooner. But ask Hinkle, the park's chief of outdoor education, and the thought is banished.

In his seventh year as official spotter, Hinkle is protecting the tradition that the Hinckley buzzards are not back until the official spotter spots one on March 15.

"Buzzards, also known as turkey vultures, have to by and large eat dead food and if snow cover is a few inches deep they can't find food and they have to migrate out of the area, so I can guarantee there are not buzzards here year-round," Hinkle said.

A year ago, Hinkle made his first spotting at 8:43 a.m., about three hours into his vigil.

Devoted followers of the tradition travel annually to the park, about 25 miles southwest of Cleveland. This is the 49th year of the celebration, which continues Sunday with a community festival.

Legend has it that when settlers conducted a hunt for livestock predators in December 1818, the carcasses froze and buzzards found out they could feast during the mid-March thaw. Hinkle said the flock's attraction now is a perfect nesting area for their young.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)