Crowd returns – just like the buzzards – for Buzzard Sunday

by Chris Studor

Just like the legendary return of the famed turkey vultures each spring, guests from near and far flocked to the township March 20, proving that even after a two-year COVID-19 hiatus, buzzards continue to reign supreme in Hinckley.

According to Hinckley Chamber of Commerce President Melinda Mallari Swan, more than 1,500 guests of all ages started the day with a pancake breakfast, with hundreds more attending the events later in the day, including the Buzz Carnival  .

Other local favorites were in attendance as well, including Dale Chorba, the local Sausage King, and his breakfast cooking team comprised of his wife, Catherine; his daughter, Katherine; and friend, Joe Simonis..

“I’ve been doing this since the kids were little,” said Chorba. “The people love the special buzzard sausage, made just for buzzard day by Five-Star Meats. It’s a special blend of sausage and buzzard. Just kidding. We bought 1,200 pounds, sold 500 pounds pre-sale and [cooked up] 700 pounds.”

Also returning to the township from Florida was former resident Robert Babcock, one of the founders of Buzzard Day. Babcock said Babcock Road was named after his great-, great-, great- grandfather who happened to serve as the township’s first constable.

Babcock added that his brother-in-law, Roger Lutz, was among the Metroparks rangers serving for many years as a buzzard spotter at the Buzzard Roost in the Hinckley Reservation.

“Hinckley will always be our hometown,” said Babcock. “I think Buzzard Day put the township of Hinckley on the map.”

Dozens of first-timers can attest to that, including one family who traveled from Tennessee. Also in attendance was a couple from New York who had the last name Hinckley, and another celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.

Cub Scout Troop 520 gathered trays as people finished their breakfasts in the Hinckley Elementary School gymnasium packed with vendors selling everything from Buzzard wear, to woodwork, bakery, jewelry and more, and local clubs and organizations encouraging community participation in their events and service projects.

One vendor, Betsy Brown, drew the attention of shoppers who were scooping up her handmade buzzard necklaces and earrings. Brown and the rest of the vendors selling Buzzard Day T-shirts and other paraphernalia were running low on buzzard T-shirts long before noon.

After finishing breakfast, participants traveled to the Buzz Carnival at the township hall and Brongers Park via courtesy shuttles. There, Metroparks naturalists tallied and posted how many buzzards had been spotted, with the count at 27 at about 10:30 a.m. 

Volunteers from the Medina Raptor Center were eager to share information on two rescue buzzards, as well as a small screech owl and other birds of prey.

“It’s a myth that buzzards are aggressive,” said Jillian Raber of the Raptor Center. “If a bunch of buzzards gather in your back yard, you don’t have to worry that they will attack your pets. Buzzards eat only dead things and actually their stomach acids are so strong that it kills dangerous bacteria. So, in many ways buzzards keep our environment cleaner by cleaning up carrion.”

Raber was joined by Raptor Center Volunteer Heather Eaken who held a magnificent buzzard specimen showing off its black wingspan.

At the Buzz Carnival, groups of children gathered around balloon artist Nate the Great, Nate Nawalaniec, who is the great-great-great-grandson of Walter Nawalaniec, another former Hinckley Reservation park ranger who brought the return of the buzzards each year to Hinckley to the attention of the local press. The following year, a crowd of thousands appeared at the following Buzzard Day. It didn’t take long for the Hinckley community to figure out how to capitalize on the buzzards’ return, and first official Buzzard Sunday was born shortly thereafter.