The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

April 3, 2011

Is it a buzzard, a turkey buzzard or a turkey vulture? It’s all of the above

MOTHER NATURE’S CLEANING CREW: These big black birds perform a valuable service to communities

Beachcombers in the Madison and Geneva areas already know they have a buzzard thing going on each spring, just like in Hinckley.

Unlike in Hinckley, there is no local celebration to mark the return of the buzzards just yet.

The big black bird with the red head, which looks something like a turkey’s head, is actually named a turkey vulture. It also has been called a turkey buzzard, which is shortened to simply buzzard.

On March 15 each year, buzzards begin returning in large flocks to Hinckley. The town officially began celebrating the return of the buzzards in 1957, according to local lore. The buzzard returns to all of Northeast Ohio at about the same time each year, as it is one of the migratory birds species. Common to the Americas, the buzzard can be found from Canada to South America.

“We don’t track them,” Jeff Westerfield, of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said. “Someone out there may be doing that, but we don’t.”

A few little known facts about the buzzard include that they smell their food and they can’t shed water from their wings.

“They are one of the very few birds who possess a strong sense of smell, which helps them find food,” Westerfield said. “And many times you will see them on the beach, just sunning themselves. This is because they don’t shed water or have oils in their feathers to repel water. They actually sit in the sun to dry themselves.”

While the buzzard dines on carrion almost exclusively, Westerfield said the birds have been known to damage personal property, most likely believing it is edible.

“We get reports that flocks of buzzards have completely removed caulking around windows in buildings. We also hear from motorists that buzzards have ripped-off their windshield wipers. We think these particular items must be made from something that to a buzzard, smells very dead,” he said.

Although Westerfield can say the buzzard is a migratory bird, he cannot recount with certainty their pattern of migration.

They can have a wingspan of 6 feet at maturity and perform a valuable service to communities by ridding them of dead carcasses.

“The buzzard should not be confused with its cousin, the black vulture. The black vulture doesn’t usually come this far north. Black vultures do attack live animals and have been known to kill calves or even sheep,” he said.

The average life span of the buzzard is 16 years, but they have been known to live longer in captivity.

They fly low, smelling for their dinners. Unlike other birds, they have no vocal mechanisms so they make only hissing or grunting sounds. They like to hang together in flocks.

Breeding season is March through June, with the buzzard raising one or two chicks each year. They will lay their eggs on the bare ground, in rotted-out tree stumps or in an area covered by brush. They are not nest-builders. Both parents take care of the eggs, which usually hatch within 40 days. They feed regurgitated food to their young.

Buzzards are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 and so may be kept in captivity only if they are injured. It is illegal to capture a buzzard or to kill it.

The buzzard has few natural predators. Young ones may be eaten by hawks or bald eagles, and the buzzard’s eggs can fall prey to raccoons.

Sak is a freelance writer.

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