The History Of Buzzards Day

Every year on March 15th, residents of Hinckley Ohio are treated to one of nature’s many marvels. They call it Buzzards Day, and celebrate a tradition which began a long time ago.

In the winter of 1818, local men took part in what is known as the “Hinckley Hunt”; a hunt to rid the local area of pests and predators which threatened livestock and crops.  The men worked from the edges of the town into the centre killing hundreds of animals in their path, including wolves, bears and deer.  In the spring following this morbid event, buzzards arrived to feed on the remains of the victims of the hunt which had been preserved under snow through the winter months.  The abundant food must have made a big impression on these buzzards of old, as since then their descendants have flocked back to the town of Hinckley on March 15th like clockwork every year, reportedly even on leap years!

The annual return of the buzzards to Hinckley heralds in the return of the spring, and offers an opportunity for birdwatchers and sightseers to witness the beauty of these impressive birds as they soar overhead on their arrival into Hinckley after their long winter migration.  Hinckley offers the perfect nesting ground for the buzzards, and the town welcomes the birds with open arms.  March 15th is celebrated locally as Buzzards Day, when residents and visitors to the town gather to watch the buzzards wing their way into Hinckley.  Celebrations also include a traditional sausage and pancake breakfast, and buzzard-themed festivities such as games, contests, and crafts.

About The Buzzards

Interestingly these celebrated birds are not the buzzards we are familiar with in the UK.  In fact, they are a completely different species nicknamed as buzzards.  They are actually turkey vultures!  Turkey vultures are large scavenger birds which feed on carrion.  They are dark brown except for the pale undersides of their wings, have an impressive wingspan of up to six foot, and sport a characteristic red featherless head. 

Although often considered dirty due to their diet of carrion, turkey vultures are nature’s cleaners.  Carrion is the decomposing flesh of dead animals, and harbours diseases which can pass to other animals and humans.  Turkey vultures have strong stomach acid which kills the bacteria that cause these diseases. By eating carrion, turkey vultures remove the risk of disease.

This reputation as nature’s cleaners is somewhat ruined by some rather unique talents.  Turkey vultures use projectile vomit as a defence mechanism against predators and any other danger.  They also cool themselves down by pooping on their legs and feet.  The liquid faeces cools the bird’s body temperature by evaporating as it dries, like sweat does on your skin.  Luckily the residents of Hinckley don’t let these qualities put them off greeting the buzzards each year!

Buzzards In The UK

Buzzards Day may be for turkey vultures, but it is still a great opportunity to appreciate buzzards in the UK. 

Common buzzards are the most common predatory birds in the UK.  Like turkey vultures they eat carrion, but they also hunt many other animals including mice, rabbits, frogs, and other birds. Buzzards are large brown birds with a wingspan just over a metre wide.  They have white undersides to their wings, sharp hooked beaks, and large yellow feet with sharp talons. They mate for life, are very territorial, and like to line their nests with green materials such as moss. 

Buzzards can be found in breeding pairs across the UK, with an estimated total population of 68,000.  But this wasn’t always the case.  In the 1900’s they were culled down to about 1000 breeding pairs by gamekeepers.  Since then they have more than quadrupled in number.  Such a comeback is surely worth celebrating on Buzzards Day!

Why not celebrate this Buzzards Day by taking a walk in countryside or woodland to see if you can spot a buzzard?  Keep your eyes on the sky, and listen out for their high-pitched calls!

Cassi Selina
Cassi is an animal lover with experience of working with lots of different animals in industry. She has a keen interest in enrichment which promotes natural behaviours.

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