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5-31 May 2019

Installment #695---Visitor # hit counter

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Every year in April and May and sometimes even June we receive numerous e-mails and calls from folks wanting to know where their Ruby-throated Hummingbirds might be. We hear two typical comments, to wit: Situation 1--"I had hummingbirds earlier this spring, but now they've disappeared"; and, Situation 2--"This time last year I had lots of hummingbirds but this year I have none."

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Our response to Situation 1 is that early hummers may have been passing through on their way further north; AND/OR natural food sources (including tiny insects and nectar from sources such as Tulip Trees, above) become increasingly plentiful as spring progresses, with hummers having less interest in plain old sugar water; AND/OR females may be sitting on eggs (below) while males are aggressively defending territories such that they all have little time to visit feeders.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
RTHU female on nest above from Mountain Lake VA in a previous year

For Situation 2 we usually mention our response to Situation 1 but follow-up with a simple, "In nature every year is different," plus a firm suggestion to keep feeders fresh in the hope more hummers will eventually appear. At Hilton Pond Center, 2019 has indeed been different for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds--and maybe even "more different" than anticipated!

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

We had an extremely slow start in 2019, continuing through the entire month of May. This year's first ruby-throat--an adult male with red gorget (above)--did not appear until 2 April, about a week later than our early record of 26 March 2015. Both these birds arrived with a band we had applied in a previous year. Our first banded female of 2019 came in on 17 April.

The startling thing this year is we did not get a "new" hummingbird until 20 May, nearly TWO MONTHS after our earliest arrival date for any ruby-throat, banded or not. Twelve more new RTHU trickled in by the end of the month of May, giving us just 13 for the year. (See adult male, above, after banding.) This is about average through 31 May for our 36 years of research but far below the 55 we had banded by that date back in 2015.

Even more surprising this year so far is the number of "old" (previously banded) ruby-throats that have returned to Hilton Pond and been recaptured. After our first one on 2 April we caught only three more that month, but May was a flurry of activity with 37 returns captured in the latter half. When you consider 60-80% of young hummingbirds die in their first year, several of our previously banded birds truly do qualify as "old," as shown by the Center's list below of 41 returns this season through May. (Our record for returns in a complete year of hummingbird research was 62 in 2017, so we still have a way to go to match that total--although we've already surpassed our 36-year average of 31.)

AT HILTON POND (thru May 2019)

2nd Year (banded as recent fledglings in 2018)--11
After 2nd Year (banded as adults in 2018)--9
3rd year (fledglings in 2017)--6
After 3rd Year (adults in 2017)--5
4th Year (fledglings in 2016)--4
After 4th Year (adults in 2016)--3
After 5th Year (adults in 2015)--2
After 6th Year (adult in 2014)--1

(NOTE: The longevity record for a Ruby-throated Hummingbird is nine years, an age very seldom reached by these tiny long-distance migrants. Our oldest record for Hilton Pond is eight years, so with anticipation we'll be looking for that After 6th Year bird again next year.)

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Through 31 May 2019, newly banded adult females (above) outnumbered adult males 12 to 6, with no immature RTHU yet appearing in our nets or traps. We actually wouldn't expect our first fledglings until the first half of June, what with the Center's earliest-ever youngster having been banded on 4 June 2005.

Again, we really can't explain our relative dearth of new, unbanded Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in 2019, but we're quite pleased with the big number of returning hummers. After all, these are RTHU that survived their first year and successfully migrated to Central America, returning in at least one following year. And for that After 6th Year female (above) we recaptured this spring, she's made the trip down and back AT LEAST seven times--quite an accomplishment for a bird the size of your thumb!

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

So we remind you once more: Do not be disappointed or disillusioned if it seems you've had fewer hummingbirds so far this spring. Even though this scenario may seem unusual, it's simply different from what happened in previous years--or maybe just different from the way you remember things! (It's hard to know how many hummers you actually have without banding them.) In any case, keep your feeders fresh--and by all means plant more native nectar flowers to vary your hummers' diet, and sooner or later you're likely to see an increase in Ruby-throated Hummingbirds outside your kitchen window Maybe one of them, like the adult male above from Hilton Pond Center, will even be banded and color-marked! That would REALLY be different!

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

On 8 May 2019 we banded our 69,000th bird at Hilton Pond Center, a male Mourning Dove (above) with pale slate-blue cap, rosy breast, black "ear" spot, iridescent nape--and did we mention bright blue eye shadow? This was also our 667th MODO captured and banded in 38 years of work at the Center. If Ruby-throated Hummingbird numbers increase this summer and winter finches show up in big flocks this fall, we might reach the 70,000-bird plateau before year's end.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

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Don't forget to scroll down for Nature Notes & Photos,
plus lists of all birds banded or recaptured during the period.

"This Week at Hilton Pond" is written and photographed by Bill Hilton Jr., executive director of Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History

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We're pleased folks are thinking about the work of the Center and making donations. Those listed below made contributions received during the period. Please join them if you can in coming weeks.

Gifts can be made via PayPal (funding@hiltonpond.org); credit card via Network for Good (see link below); or personal check (c/o Hilton Pond Center, 1432 DeVinney Road, York SC 29745). You can also donate through our Facebook fundraising page.

The following made contributions to Hilton Pond Center during the current period:

  • Anonymous (via Network for Good)
  • Sue Bridson
  • The following 31 friends contributed via the "Donate" button on one of the Center's Facebook postings; some may be repeat Facebook contributors. Most contributions (listed chronologically) were made in support of our Spring Fundraiser that recognized the banding of our 69,000th bird at Hilton Pond Center.

    Bonnie Arielly, Becky Diak, April Lang, Cheryl Ervin Hill, Ann-Marie Rutkowski, Lisa Fischer, Lesa Hipes, Bob Placier, Kathy Mayfield-Smith, Lisa Rest, Mary Ellen Heisey, Kathy Johnson, Mary Alice Koeneke, Chester Grafton, George Johnson, Elizabeth Rausch, Amy Girten, Kim Pierce Lascola, Catherine Wu-latona, Clark Cone, Marge McCarthy van Remmen, Susan Beshears, Meret Wilson, Ellen Falls, Jeanette Hanberry, Manella Calhoun, Ed Saugstad, Melissa Paulette, Ann Peay, Cindy Williamson, Andrea Holbrook.

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The Piedmont Naturalist--Vol. 1--1986 (Hilton Pond Press) is an award-winning collection of newspaper columns that first appeared in The Herald in Rock Hill SC. Optimized for tablets such as iPad and Kindle, electronic downloads of the now out-of-print volume are available by clicking on the links below. The digital version includes pen-and-ink drawings from the original edition--plus lots of new color photos. All sales go
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5-31 May 2019

Ruby-throated Hummingbird--
Carolina Chickadee--
(5 nestlings)
Black-throated Blue Warbler--
Common Yellowthroat--2
American Goldfinch--1
Indigo Bunting--2
Red-eyed Vireo--1
Northern Cardinal--8
Gray Catbird--1
Brown-headed Cowbird--6
Carolina Wren--2
House Finch--13
Tufted Titmouse--2
Eastern Bluebird--2
Downy Woodpecker--3
Summer Tanager--1
Blue Grosbeak--1
Brown Thrasher--3
Mourning Dove--2

* = new banded species for 2019

19 species
70 individuals

42 species (38-yr. avg. = 64.4)

926 individuals
(38-yr. avg. =

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds = 13

(Banding began 28 June 1982; since then 171 species have been observed on or over the property.)
127 species banded
69,056 individuals banded

6,206 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds banded

(with original banding date, sex, and current age):
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (37)
See banding dates and ages in photo essay above

Carolina Chickadee (5)
06/03/14--6th year male
06/07/16--4th year female
08/20/16--4th year male
09/21/16--4th year female

04/10/18--after 2nd year female

Chipping Sparrow (1)
04/03/17--after 3rd year male

American Goldfinch (1)
04/12/17--4th year male

Northern Cardinal (12)
05/10/16--after 4th year female
01/21/17--after 3rd year male

09/23/17--3rd year male
07/27/17--3rd year female
04/12/18--after 2nd year female
08/03/18--2nd year female
09/23/18--after 2nd year male
09/30/18--2nd year female
10/01/18--2nd year male
10/02/17--3rd year male
10/23/18--after 2nd year male
11/23/18--2nd year female

Tufted Titmouse (5)
05/24/16--4th year male
07/07/18--2nd year male
07/27/18--2nd year male
08/03/18--2nd year female
09/25/18--2nd year female

Downy Woodpecker (8)
04/23/15--6th year female
04/24/15--6th year male
10/29/15--5th year female
06/07/16--4th year male
08/21/16--4th year male
10/31/16--4th year male
12/02/16--4th year female
05/11/17--after 3rd year female

Carolina Wren (1)
01/18/18--after 2nd year female

Red-bellied Woodpecker (1)
10/01/18--2nd year female

Mourning Dove (1)
09/04/17--after 3rd year male

--The top of the column at left shows a nice diversity of birds banded at Hilton Pond Center during May 2019. Of equal interest is our list at of recaptured birds (bottom left). We especially note the four oldest Carolina Chickadees--one of which is six years old! All four were banded at the Center as recent fledglings and recaptured locally, an example of strong site fidelity. We also caught a lot of previously banded Northern Cardinals with the same proclivity. If they all reproduce successfully we should have a bumper crop of young redbirds this summer.

--Another very useful aspect of long-term banding studies involving recaptures comes into play when dealing with monomorphic species in which sex cannot be determined by plumage or measurements. Such was the case this week with Tufted Titmice, of which we caught five that were banded as young birds likely produced locally (see list below left). At recapture, three had enlarged cloacal protuberances indicating they were males, while the other two were females with well-developed brood patches.

--Downy Woodpeckers (see list below left) also put on a good show for site fidelity and longevity, with eight "old" birds recaptured. Most of these were banded at Hilton Pond Center as hatch year youngsters.

--As of 31 May, the Center's 2019 Yard List stood at 65--about 38% of 171 avian species encountered locally since 1982. (Incidentally, all 65 species so far this year have been observed from the windows or back deck of our old farmhouse! If you're not keeping a Yard List for your own property we encourage you to do so, and to report your sightings via eBird. You, too, can be a "citizen scientist.") New species observed during the period: Mississippi Kite, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, American Redstart, Common Yellowthroat, Blue Grosbeak.

--The adult Mississippi Kite circling over Hilton Pond this week was only our second local sighting for this species in 38 years. The first came back on 2 August 1984 when we spotted a perched immature while walking the trails with star student Russell E. Rogers Jr.

--Our immediate past installment of "This Week at Hilton Pond" was about our early spring week at West Virginia's New River Birding and Nature Festival is archived and always available on the Center's Web site as Installment #694.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

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sightings of
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

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Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is a non-profit research, conservation & education organization in York, South Carolina USA; phone (803) 684-5852. Directed by Dr. Bill Hilton Jr., aka "The Piedmont Naturalist," it is parent organization for Operation RubyThroat. Web site contents--including text and photos--may NOT be duplicated, modified, or used in any way except with express written permission of Hilton Pond Center. All rights reserved worldwide. To request permission for use or for further assistance, please contact Webmaster.