- Established 1982 -


13-30 November 2019

Installment #705---Visitor # hit counter

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21 December 2019
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As November 2019 progressed, Hilton Pond Center experienced a wide range of temperatures, from a very frigid 17.3°F on the 13th to a balmy 67.1°F on the 30th. Precipitation was nearly lacking for the last half of the month--only 0.8" in our digital rain gauge from the 13th through the 30th--so variable temps and drought-like conditions meant we had to pay special attention to a trusty birdbath we've been maintaining all 38 years we've been at the Center.

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

We call it a "birdbath" because birds do bathe in it, but in reality it's the bottom of a shower stall removed from the old farmhouse just before we bought the property in 1982. Made of metal coated with black enamel, the one-piece platform was hauled out by previous owners and placed atop a concrete stand that leads to an old hand-dug, stone-lined well--apparently the home's original fresh water source. (An inscription in the concrete base says "1918," which we guess was when the first farmhouse rooms were constructed.) The shower base now serves two purposes: Protecting the ancient well from varmints and surface contamination, and providing a spot where birds--and other wildlife--can drink and bathe.

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

"What other wildlife?" you might ask. To date we've witnessed the following animals drinking from the water feature in question: Eastern Gray Squirrel (above), White-tailed Deer, Raccoon, Opossum, Eastern Chipmunk, Carolina Anole, and Black Ratsnake; there likely have been more, especially at night. Nonetheless, birds are primary patrons of the old shower base, drinking and bathing in potable water we provide.

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

During warmer weather, the birdbath is kept full by a mister hose that also drips a little. (Some avifauna--especially Ruby-throated Hummingbirds--seem to like the mister and bathe in it rather than the reservoir itself.) However, when temperatures drop below 32°F as they did this month, we disconnect all our outside faucets, hoses, and misters to prevent freeze damage. This means two things: a) To keep the birdbath full we must haul buckets of water from inside the farmhouse; and, b) We have to keep the birdbath from freezing up and depriving birds of precious cold-weather water (including banded Eastern Bluebird and Northern Cardinal males, above). The former task is laborious, the latter takes an electrical device.


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

Farmers have long had to deal with supplying water to livestock when temperatures drop, often by using electric de-icers in buckets and troughs. So, years ago, the first place we looked for an outdoor birdbath water heater was an ag supply store. There we found a Farm Innovators de-icer (see photos above) that was thermostatically controlled and that--we discovered--at 500 watts would keep open water in our metal birdbath even at sub-freezing temperatures. Through the decades we've had three of these, each good for about 8-10 winters. Several other manufacturers now sell de-icers specifically for birding enthusiasts, and there are even molded plastic birdbaths with heater coils built in.

(CAVEAT #1: Read on-line reviews before buying a heated birdbath or de-icer; some products, regardless of expense, can be disappointingly short-lived. CAVEAT #2: We strongly recommend you connect any outdoor heating device to a ground fault outlet; if you must use an extension cord, make sure it's all-weather, heavy-duty, three-prong, and as short as possible. CAVEAT #3: Buy a device with thermostatic control; no sense heating water when ambient temperatures are above freezing.)

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

Four more hints for birdbaths, at any season, likely to be appreciated by short-legged Mourning Doves (brownish-crowned female, above) plus numerous other species:

1. You'll notice the two-piece molded concrete birdbath in the snow photo above includes a water bowl AND a pedestal to elevate it. Our preference is to skip the pedestal and put the bowl directly on the ground. This makes it more accessible to birds and other wildlife, and you won't have to worry about a tip-over or accidentally dropping the bowl and breaking it.

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

2. We suggest you NOT place a birdbath out in the open in the middle of a lawn. No matter the season, soaking wet birds like the male Eastern Bluebird above have more difficulty flying away when a predator presents itself. We prefer to situate the bath near a few sheltering shrubs or low trees into which a damp bird can escape if some hungry Sharp-shinned Hawk comes barreling through. Don't put a bath too close to shrubs, however, lest they provide a launch point for a predatory feral cat; keep lower branches trimmed to minimize feline hiding places.

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

3. Don't make your birdbath too deep. Songbirds may drink from a deep source--even a five-gallon bucket--if they can perch along the edge, but for bathing they won't enter water more than about 2" deep. A few large, flat, partly submerged rocks in the bath may entice smaller birds to take a dip, as with the rusty-tailed Hermit Thrush, above. (NOTE: A rough-bottom container provides birds with a better grip while bathing; rocks may help in this regard.)

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

4. In summer you should replace all water in a birdbath on a daily basis; use the wastewater on shrubs and flowers, and scrub the container at least weekly to minimize disease and algal/mold growth. (It follows that smaller birdbaths are better than huge ones because they're easier to handle and clean on a regular basis.) Since birds sometimes defecate while bathing, it's good to change the water often even in winter. (A flock of Cedar Waxwings, above, can make a mess of a birdbath in very short order!)

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

We often surprise folks when we say drinkable fresh water is a more precious commodity in nature than food, but that is indeed the case. Although you can offer a cornucopia of sunflower seeds and suet, if you really want to attract birds (Northern Mockingbird and Blue Jay, above; Brown Thrashers, below) you should have clean water available year-round--both for drinking AND for bathing. This is especially true in winter when fresh water turns to ice--unless, of course, you've wisely planned ahead for cold weather by maintaining a heated watering hole for your feathered and furry friends.

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

POSTSCRIPT: If you happen to become a host for a wintering hummingbird--such as the Buff-bellied Hummingbird we banded in 2001 December near Lexington SC (photo below)--keeping the bird and its artificial nectar warm all winter requires a whole different strategy than discussed above. Please see our info at Winter Vagrant Hummingbirds.

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

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York SC 29745

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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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Thanks to the following fine folks for recent gifts in support of Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History and/or Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project. Your tax-deductible contributions allow us, among other things, to continue writing, photographing, and sharing "This Week at Hilton Pond" with students, teachers, and the general public. Please see Support or scroll below if you'd like to make a gift of your own.

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 (; 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 period 13-30 Nov 2019:

  • Marie Baumann (Top Tier donor in multiple years; alumna of Operation RubyThroat Neotropical hummingbird expedition to Guanacaste, Costa Rica)
  • The following friends contributed via the "Donate" button on one of the Center's Facebook postings; some may be repeat Facebook contributors. Deanna Frautschi, Tina Edmond, Rita Kempf, Hollis Barnes, Pam Torlina, Carmon Ortiz
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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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13-30 November 2019

Ruby-crowned Kinglet--1
Golden-crowned Kinglet--1
Carolina Chickadee--1
Pine Warbler--1
Yellow-rumped Warbler--9
Northern Cardinal--10
White-throated Sparrow--8
House Finch--5
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker--1
Mourning Dove--3

* = new banded species for 2019

10 species
30 individuals

66 species (38-yr. avg. = 65.0)

1,477 individuals
(38-yr. avg. =

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds = 162

(Banding began 28 June 1982; since then 171 species have been observed on or over the property.)
127 species banded
69,607individuals banded

6,355 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds banded

(with original banding date, sex, and current age):
Carolina Chickadee (3)
09/21/15--after 4th year male
8/20/16--4th year male

07/14/17--3rd year male

Tufted Titmouse (2)
08/03/18--2nd year female
10/13/18--2nd year female

--As of 30 Nov, the Hilton Pond Center's 2019 Yard List stood at 94--about 55% of 171 avian species encountered locally since 1982. (Incidentally, 93 of the species so far this year have been observed from the windows or porches 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: Orange-crowned Warbler, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Wild Turkey (five captured by trail cam on 17 Nov).

--Our immediate past installment of "This Week at Hilton Pond" was about Eastern Chipmunks. It's archived and always available on the Center's Web site as Installment #704.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Oct 15 to Mar 15:
East of the Rockies please report your sightings of
Vagrant & Winter Hummingbirds

(immature male Rufous Hummingbird at right)

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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.