There are two important birding holidays coming up this week. On March 15, the buzzards will be returning to Hinckley Township, Ohio, and on March 19, the swallows will return to the mission of San Juan Capistrano in Southern California. Both places will have a lot of visitors, parades and festivals. But are these avian events celebrating two legends or do hundreds of birds really descend into these places en masse on the same day every year?
It turns out, it’s a little of both. The swallows don’t build their mud nests on the side of the mission in Capistrano anymore. They still return to Southern California in March after wintering in Argentina, but they prefer to live in a more natural area, where there are more insects for them to eat. Some believe that the area surrounding the mission is too developed to attract a lot of wildlife. Others blame construction that destroyed their nests one year. Still others think that the story of hundreds of swallows swarming down on a Catholic church on St. Joseph’s day is more of a legend than a fact. Various means have been attempted to lure the birds, but so far only a few have come “home.”
Even if the guests of honor don’t show up, the parties and parades still go on. According to the web site, Swallow Day Parade is the longest non-motorized parade in the country. There are also various booths and other activities for children of all ages.
The buzzards of Ohio seem to be more reliable, although they may get their dates mixed up. Supposedly, they should return on March 15, the anniversary of a massive hunt which resulted in numerous animal carcasses around town. Residents have seen a few already, some as early as January 29. The mass migration hasn’t begun in earnest, though, and it appears that everyone is genuinely expecting a buzzard blitz on Monday. The “official buzzard spotter” will be on duty at 7:00 AM to find the first “official” buzzard (I just hate those unofficial buzzards, don’t you?) Buzzard Sunday will be on March 21, and like in Capistrano there will be a lot of fun activities for the kids, including buzzard bingo and bird shows. The festival is free, but since there are a lot of buzzard themed souvenir stands, it is a good idea to bring your wallet.
I will not be attending either of these birding festivals, unfortunately, as I have to work (and don’t live near either one of the towns). If anybody reading this will attend, or has attended one of the festivals in the past, please send me an e-mail or post on the forum. I would love to hear a firsthand account about them.