A 43 seconds past 7:09 a.m. today, the Buzzards of Hinckley Ridge returned to this rural northern Ohio township sustaining a legend -- and a public relations spectacular -- that is expected to lure upward of 35,000 people to a pancakes and sausage bash on Sunday.

Buzzard Sunday, of course.

The first sighting of three wrinkly "pilot birds" up from their southern roosts was reported by Metropark ranger Roger Lutz and promptly disseminated to the press as a 7:09 a.m. arrival.

To which ranger Gregory Orlosk added for historical accuracy: ". . . and 43 seconds."

The township of 4,500 rural folks 30 miles Northwest of Akron has grown almost smug about the day of the ugly birds' annual return -- March 15, without fail, as long as there have been buzzard watchers. The pastime goes back more than a generation here.

The only remaining suspense in these parts is over the hour, minute and second the big carrion-eaters will arrive, after a winter of garbage-scavenging along the New Orleans docks or so the legend goes.

The story also goes that the birds settled on Hunckley township as their summer retreat during something called the great varmint hunt" of Dec. 24,[WORD ILLEGIBLE] when the folks slaughtered hundreds of predatory animals.

Supposedly dozens of buzzards have been returning each year ever since.

The festivities are of more recent vintage and destir thousands of people to jam up the country roads on Buzzard Sunday.

"We get so many inquiries, some from as far away as Hawaii and Canada, about whether there will be a buzzard Sunday," said Ruth Moell, who is the phone answering service for the Hinckley Chamber of Commerce. ("We're too small to have an office," she apologized.)

If the warner's right, said Moell, maybe 35,000 persons will show up this year at the 1,800-acre Metropark where the buzzards will spend the summer. (Last year, the figure was estimated at $25,000 on a cold day.)

How many buzzards will be there? The consensus is about 50 to 75. "Nobody," said Moell, "has ever seriously counted them."