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Roots Revealed Blog

Spotting the Buzzards - A Grand Tradition

Posted: 3/12/2014
Posted By: Foster Brown

Spotting the first buzzards that return to Hinckley every March 15 is a grand tradition. We naturalists prefer to call them by their true name, turkey vulture (Cathartes aura). However, for the town of Hinckley and Cleveland Metroparks, celebrating this “welcome back” ceremony for 57 years, a more folksy flavor fits this traditional special event just fine.

The story goes that Charlie Willard, a Cleveland Metropolitan Park System policeman for 23 years, had logged the March 15 return of the buzzards. The date was perpetuated by another policeman from Cleveland Metropolitan Park System named Walter Nawalaniec, who said he observed the same phenomenon.

A Cleveland newspaper journalist caught wind of this legendary prediction and published a piece in February 1957. The public took interest, and for the last 57 years, Buzzard Day (March 15) has drawn thousands of people from all over the world, despite the fact that this grand event is based more on folklore than fact. There is an interesting history to this phenomenon that correlates back to 1818, but that story will be posted in a blog in a couple weeks.

That first Buzzard Sunday in 1957 was quite the event. More than 9,000 visitors flocked to the township and took the park system and town of Hinckley by surprise. The fanciful embellishments written by reporters fed talebearers and bird enthusiasts to spread the word, which created much suspense for the magical date of March 15. To say the least, no one was ready for such crowds.

Buzzard Day Mania  (1981)

In 1958, the Park District and the town of Hinckley were prepared for the onslaught of visitors. Hinckley established a pancake breakfast for the locals and out-of-towners on the first Sunday after March 15. This would become known as Buzzard Sunday. Year after year, the event grew more famous with community support and many events highlighting the buzzard. Cleveland Metroparks also established its own special event at the Buzzard Roost on Buzzard Sunday.

Official Buzzard Day car 1969 - Photo Courtesy of Hinckley Historical Society

Sandra O'Brien (1960) - Photo Courtesy fo Hinckley Historical Society

Cleveland Metroparks historically provides the official sighting of the Return of the Buzzards on March 15. There have only been seven official Buzzard Spotters in the 57-year history of this event. Let’s take a look at the highly esteemed people who have attained this lofty position. They hold the power of keeping the media on pins and needles until their official word has been decreed that the buzzards are back!

I would qualify Charlie Willard the Moses of the spotters. He never reached the promised land of being called an official Buzzard Spotter, however, he laid the foundation for those who served in this highly regarded duty.

Charlie Willard -  first ranger at Hinckley Reservation

The next five spotters came from the ranks of the Cleveland Metropolitan Park Police Department, eventually in 1967 to become known as the Ranger Department.

Walter Nawalaniec served as the father of Buzzard Spotters from 1957 – 1970. 

Don Filmer, Walter Nawalaniec,  and Al Cobb     

Bud Berger, Jr. was the second Buzzard Spotter. He was deemed the official proclaimer of the buzzards’ return from 1971 – 1974 and then in 1978 and 1979.

Jim Kamps, Sr. held the shortest reign of Buzzard Spotter from 1975 – 1976. However, he became the Park Manager of Hinckley Reservation from 1976 – 2000.

Jim Kamps, Sr. spotting buzzards with a family.

Lt. James French rose to the acclaimed Buzzard Spotter position from 1980 – 1982. He wore the binoculars proudly.

Captain Roger Lutz joined the ranks as Buzzard Spotter in 1983 – 1998. However, it is important to note that he served as interim spotter in 1977. Captain Lutz held the longest term as Buzzard Spotter, 16 years.

Captain Roger Lutz (1998)

Dr. Bob Hinkle received the mantle of Buzzard Spotter in 1999 and served until 2012. If anyone could claim to be an expert Buzzard Spotter, it would be Bob Hinkle. He served as Director of Outdoor Education for 29 years and is an avid birder and an award-winning writer and naturalist.  

Dr. Bob Hinkle  (1999)

Sharon Hosko, naturalist and nature center manager at Brecksville Nature Center, is currently serving in the prestigious role of Buzzard Spotter. She and her staff have overseen the activities of Buzzard Day and Buzzard Sunday at the Buzzard Roost location for many years.

Sharon Hosko (2014)

If you have never experienced Buzzard Day or Buzzard Sunday in Cleveland Metroparks – Hinckley Reservation or in the town of Hinckley, consider making this year your first. Come, taste the famous pancakes of Hinckley, spot your own buzzard (turkey vulture), and introduce yourself to the highly esteemed Buzzard Spotter – Sharon Hosko.


3/14/2014 2:02:03 PM by Foster Brown
I will check with the Hinckley Historical Society. This picture was found in a collection of photos and newspaper clippings at Hinckley Historical Society. I will see if she was a resident of Hinckley, a winner of a contest or enthusiastic participant of the event. Foster
3/14/2014 12:05:00 AM by Michael
Who's Sandra O'Brein?
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