A couple of blogs ago, right before the “Return of the Buzzards,” I told you I would explain why the turkey vultures congregate near Hinckley Lake and in that general vicinity. Here is a bit of information that surrounds this natural phenomenon.
Well, there are several answers to that question. Let’s start with a naturalist’s response and then move on to a historical interpreter’s point of view that will be laced with truth and folk legend.
Hinckley Township’s river and lake, rocky outcroppings and ledges, and tall standing trees provide the perfect habitat for these large scavengers. These natural features allow them to catch thermal uplifts for soaring, nest in hollow trees, cliffs and caves, and to roost in tall standing trees. The nearby farmlands and heavy wooded areas provide carrion for the vultures to survive. So, Hinckley Township is perfectly suited to offer these buzzards a healthy habitat in which to flourish.
Hinckley Lake (1958)
History tells us that this township was one of the last Northeast Ohio areas to be settled because of the rolling and rocky terrain. The adjacent townships and counties were more tillable and were quickly converted to farmland by settlers from the east. This left Hinckley Township as an “island of a wilderness” inhabited by wolves, deer, fox, wild turkey and bear.
In early Ohio, farmers let their livestock roam free and barned them at night if possible. The wild predators from Hinckley Township found the farm animals easy prey and feasted on the sheep, pigs and cattle. Of course, with their livelihood threatened, farmers from surrounding areas planned a huge hunt to take care of the problem.
On Christmas Eve in 1818, nearly 500 men surrounded the township, forming a chain on all sides and literally began shooting their way to the middle, killing any wild animal that came across their path. A blaze was marked several hundred feet before the shooters reached the center to avoid harming each other. Then sharpshooters would climb trees at the center and eliminate the remaining predators.
On Christmas morning a count was taken, and the carcasses of 21 bears, 300 deer, 17 wolves heaped wide and deep. The meat was divided up and the remains were piled again, left to rot.
The legend is told that because of the carcasses left behind, the winter thaw that came in March attracted turkey vultures by the multiple dozens to pick at the mound of remains. And so….the buzzards have been returning ever since to Hinckley Township to see if another pile of carcasses have been left behind.
Gee, it must be true, because turkey vultures come back every March 15, along with thousands of on-lookers to see this very large scavenger soar the sky.
Well…two things are for certain, Hinckley Township’s natural habitat is very suitable for these giant birds to thrive…and the "Great Hinckley Hunt" truly took place back in 1818, but to the specific date and reason why they always arrive near the Buzzard Roost in Cleveland Metroparks… let’s just leave that to tradition.