BISBEE — Some towns around the country hold annual festivals celebrating the migratory returns of cute, delicate birds such as swallows or sparrows.
Not in Bisbee.
True to form, the town celebrates a quirkier fowl: the turkey vulture, which return in droves to the area in mid-March with the arrival of spring.
The festival began three years ago, as a spoof of the longstanding “Return of the San Juan Capistrano Swallows” festival in California, said organizer Cado Daily.
“We don’t have swallows, we have turkey vultures,” she said. “They come to Bisbee, they migrate in the second week of March. Bisbee is a quirky town, and we really enjoy our turkey vultures.”
This year, Bisbee celebrates the carrion birds with a variety of fun and educational events. The festivities will begin on Tuesday evening at the Copper Queen Library, when author and vulture aficionado Dave Manning will give a talk about North America’s vultures, sharing photos and stories of his own birding exploits.
“This year, we are not only having author Dave Manning, but we are also hosting Liberty Wildlife bringing their live rescued turkey vultures to meet everyone at the Copper Queen Library,” said library program coordinator Alison Williams.
The vultures themselves will be available to visit with outside the library on Saturday, March 9, from 12:30 to 2 p.m.
“We love being able to partner with Cado and the community in participating in an event that highlights an underappreciated part of our population — the turkey vultures themselves,” she said. “They are beautiful and fascinating and wonderful to learn about.”
Vulture enthusiasts can also flock together at the new Bisbee Science Lab on Thursday evening, where they can share their observations about the local vultures as part of a citizen science project.
“What we’d like to do is start a database on Bisbee turkey vultures,” said Daily. “We want to hear from people what they see, and try to just gather this information and make it an annual data gathering, so we can develop this database over the years.”
The party begins in earnest on Saturday, when the weekly Bisbee Farmers Market will offer vulture kite-decorating and the opportunity to get up close and personal with the live birds.
“We’re having live vultures from Liberty Wildlife in Phoenix,” she said. “They’ll be answering questions and showing of the birds.”
The parade — complete with enormous vulture puppets and costumed participants — will kick off later in the day at the Iron Man statue and will wrap up on Subway Street, when a Buzzard Bash complete with life music, food, and beer will begin at 4p.m. Night owls can continue the festivities at an African Roots Reggae dance party with General Tchefary at 8 p.m. at Club Kilimanjahro.
Proceeds from the Buzzard Bash will go toward maintaining Bisbee’s community pool, said Daily. Last year, the party earned $1,000 toward the project.
“The other part is we encourage businesses in Bisbee to feature some kind of turkey vulture thing,” said Daily.
For example, many local restaurants serve vulture-themed dishes the week of the festival, such as “Bloody Buzzard Cocktails,” at Cafe Cornucopia and “Los Buitres Burritos” at High Desert Market.
“So we encourage the local businesses to celebrate with us,” she said.
Apart from the party, residents of Bisbee and surrounding areas can celebrate the turkey vulture by keeping an eye out for them — hopefully with a new appreciation for the unassuming bird, said Daily.
“If you go up Tombstone Canyon, they roost in the cottonwood trees,” she said. “So we encourage people to look up.”