The Buzzards Are Back

Here’s another thing that’s sort of the same and sort of different between California and Michigan. The swallows come back to Capistrano about the same time the turkey buzzards come back to Ann Arbor.

The buzzards are better known for coming back to Hinckley, Ohio, which has a festival for them every year around March 15th. Hinckley is about 170 miles southeast of Ann Arbor, around the corner of Lake Erie, so you would think we’d get our buzzards about the same time. The Bird Count People would agree with you. When I count my buzzards in February, they’re dubious.

But there’s no mistaking buzzards – the cauldron-stirring flight pattern, the unfeathered red heads. They’re early, but they’re correct: the snow’s gone and it’s clean-up time. How did they know?

On Buzzard Sunday in Hinckley (March 18 this year) thousands of visitors welcome the buzzards back from winter break, but our birds here have beat the rush. I see from the Hinckley website that they will have hikes, skits, songs, stories, crafts, contests, and a pancake breakfast with sausage. I’m not sure I’d go for sausage on a holiday honoring vultures, though I guess that’s irrational. And according to The Ohio Traveler, a turkey buzzard’s digestive system kills any viruses and bacteria they ingest. Even their droppings, says Ohio Traveler, are disease-free. I hope some pharmaceutical companies are studying this.

As a sign of spring they aren’t exactly romantic, but they’re part of the pattern of renewal nonetheless. This is a poem I wrote about another vulture, the condor. California had condors, but the ones I saw were in Chile, where I spent many hours staring at the desert mountains to make some of the pictures you can see in my “Paintings” section.

The Condor

He is the grandee of birds,
like a sixteenth century gentleman of Spain,
white ruff around his neck,black wings spread wide
over the prey of the New World,
his head blood-red
but he does not blush,
full partner of creation,
his dark back patched
with a pattern of angels.


published in Cumberland Poetry Review

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