- Established 1982 -


1-30 April 2021

Installment #743---Visitor #web counter

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

Sunset over Hilton Pond (above), 04 April 2021.
Flowering Dogwoods, Cornus florida, on Easter Sunday.


Hilton Pond Center's first Ruby-throated Hummingbird (RTHU) of the 2021 season appeared briefly outside our office window shortly after noon on 27 March—an adult male who barely looked at our assortment of sugar water feeders and took off for somewhere else. We heard a second one on the morning of 1 April buzzing within earshot as we bent down to remove a Chipping Sparrow from a ground trap. On 5 April another male RTHU flew past the kitchen deck and directly into a mist net—making him the first hummer captured this spring and our 6,645th ruby-throat banded locally since 1984.

During late March and early April we expect only adult male RTHU—our-earliest-ever unbanded spring males came on 27 March (in four years) and our earliest female on 8 April—so we tell folks first female ruby-throats usually arrive a week to ten days after their prospective mates. Nest-building, courtship, and egg-laying follow very shortly thereafter, with females doing the "heavy lifting."

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

We’re pretty confident that red-gorgetted male we caught on 5 April (see photo above) had just arrived at the Center, evidence being he weighed a mere 2.99 grams—about 3/5ths the weight of a U.S. nickel. Male RTHU are smaller than females, but 2.99g is headed toward the 2.5g lower end of an adult male’s weight range. (During summer they usually weigh between 3.1g and 3.5g, or rarely a little more.) We speculate this male was so light because his travels from the Neotropics had used up any stored fat he accumulated for the trip north.

As further possible evidence of his arriving recently, after banding and measuring him we gently inserted his bill into one of our feeders and watched as he lapped up sugar water for at least 30 seconds. We gave him a short break, reinserted his bill, and saw him go at it for another half-minute. We’d say this little ball of fluff was downright hungry, likely starved from a long northbound migration of up to 2,000 miles.

Later in the afternoon we netted a second adult male RTHU. He, interestingly enough, also weighed exactly 2.99g and drank and drank just prior to release. Two well-traveled just-arrived male hummers, we’d guess, with a thirst for carbohydrates we were happy to provide as we began our 38th year of Ruby-throated Hummingbird research at Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History.

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

As noted above, our first unbanded Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (RTHU)—both adult males with red gorgets—arrived at the Center on 5 April. They were followed by another on 10 April. Adult female RTHU typically appear a week to ten days after males, so we weren’t surprised on the morning of 11 April to see a “white-throated” female (see photo below) enter one of our traps. What was particularly interesting about this bird was she didn’t really have a white throat AND she was already banded.

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

First the band. After carefully removing her from the trap—a cylinder of plastic mesh in which we hang a hummer feeder—we read the number of the hummer’s tiny aluminum bracelet: M08269. We recognized this as one of the bands assigned to the Center by the federal Bird Banding Lab, and a quick check of our records showed she had been banded as an adult ‘way back on 5 June 2018—meaning she is now an after-4th-year bird in at least her fifth year. That’s impressive in itself, but even more amazing is we have caught her every year since her banding—a fine example of site fidelity in which this tiny bird has showed up at Hilton Pond after at least four long-distance round trips to and from the Neotropics!

And now the throat. Only adult male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have full red gorgets, with young males of the year typically having throats bearing dark streaking and from zero to several red feathers. Young females usually have fully white throats—as do some adult females—but in our experience as female RTHU age they tend to develop a degree of throat streaking. That was the case of the old female we caught; her gorget was definitely streaked and with one fully BLACK feather near the left base of her bill.

This “experienced” female likely got right down to business building a nest and looking for a male worthy of being her mate. After that she’d lay two eggs—possibly skipping a day between—and then start incubating for nearly three weeks, then tending her nestlings about the same amount of time. If those chicks are successful—and because she was an “early arrival”—she’ll have plenty of time this year to raise a second brood (and maybe even a third). At her age, we wouldn’t be surprised if through the years she’s already fledged a dozen or more offspring at or very near Hilton Pond.

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

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

There was lots more going on besides hummingbirds at Hilton Pond Center in April. Among 138 birds from 33 species banded during the month a few stood out and are mentioned and illustrated below.

Of the 31 irruptive Pine Siskins (at thistle socks, above) banded during the 30-day period, one lingered until the 26th and brought the winter total to 1,316--nearly doubling our previous season record of 780. (The last of 368 Purple Finches was banded on 5 April, while White-throated Sparrows were still present at month's end.)

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

The first spring Neotropical migrant warbler of 2021 was an adult male Black-throated Blue Warbler (BTBW, above, in breeding attire) that arrived at the Center on 18 April. Male BTBW are appropriately named, with jet-black face, throat, and flanks topped with back of deep blue. An important characteristic, however, is the white wing spot--the only field mark the male shares with far-less-colorful females of his species.

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

The female BTBW (above) has a buffy superciliary line (above the eye) and broken eye ring, with wings and dorsum a dark olive; often her wing spot is quite obscure, especially in young individuals. These two genders are so different in appearance early ornithologists thought male and female Black-throated Blue Warblers were two different species--an understandable mistake. With 228 bandings since 1982, BTBW are our seventh-most-common of 34 warbler species observed at Hilton Pond Center.

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

The Center's first male Indigo Bunting (INBU, above) of the spring was right on time on 23 April, visiting a sunflower seed feeder before getting snared in one of our mist nets. We deemed him to be a second-year bird because of pointed, worn tail feathers and flecks of brown in his body plumage. Since 1982 we've banded 392 INBU locally.


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

On 28 April the first Northern Waterthrush (NOWA, above left) arrived from the Neotropics on its way to Canada or the northeastern U.S. A day later came our initial Louisiana Waterthrush (LOWA, above right), a more southerly breeder that has nested in the vicinity of Hilton Pond Center. These two look-alike species are actually fairly easy to tell apart. As shown, a NOWA typically has some degree of dark streaking on its throat, while LOWA does not. The superciliary line in NOWA is usually--not always--buffy compared to the bright white of LOWA; NOWA also often have buffiness on the breast. On foot, both waterthrushes bob their tails but LOWA is a tad larger with a heavier bill and tends to have a chunkier body. Northern Waterthrushes have far outnumbered their locally banded Louisiana counterparts 344 to 56.

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

The 29th also brought the Center's first American Redstart of the year--an olive-colored female (above) much less showy than black-and-orange potential mates that didn't arrive by April's end. Note the large expanse of yellow at the base of the four outer tail feathers. Among our parulids, only the Magnolia Warbler with its white band halfway down the tail has a pattern anything similar. Redstarts are our second most common local warbler with 565 banded since 1982; they are substantially outnumbered by Yellow-rumped Warblers at 2,339.

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

We banded the first Great Crested Flycatcher (GCFL, above) of the season on 30 April, although--as usual--we heard its loud, distinctive "Wheeep!" call days before we caught it. This species is well-named; it's nearly twice the size of empidonax flycatchers and has a prominent headdress. GCFL breed around Hilton Pond and one year occupied a Wood Duck box after ducklings had fledged; we were alerted to the flycatchers' nest by a shed snake-skin the pair used as adornment. Great Crested Flycatchers are an uncommon species for the Center with just 58 banded in the past 40 years.

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

Another uncommonly handled species this month was House Wren (HOWR, above) with 72 since 1982; this month we actually caught two of them. HOWR are cavity nesters that often occupy boxes erected for Eastern Bluebirds; alas, these interlopers are known to peck at bluebird eggs and kill the developing embryos. House Wrens are sometimes incorrectly identified as Carolina Wrens (CARW, below), but the latter are larger, have a much heavier decurved bill, and sport a prominent white superciliary line. CARW are more abundant locally with 812 banded--our 14th most common of 127 species banded through the years.

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

NOTE: For a full account of birds banded and recaptured during April 2021 at Hilton Pond Center, scroll down to the lists in a summary section at the end of this page. We also include a "Yard List" of species encountered for the first time this calendar year--but not necessarily banded.

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

The first Earth Day was held on 22 April 1970. In this--its 51st anniversary year--we were challenged once again at Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History to do all we can to honor and protect our planet and Mother Nature by consuming far less and by recycling, re-purposing, and re-using whenever we can. Few other animals soil their own nests as humans do, and we simply HAVE TO make wiser choices and take better actions. After all, "There's no place else to go!"

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

(from our on-going series)

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

Sunset over Hilton Pond (above), 23 April 2021.
Friday Night Lights.

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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 Dr. 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 1-30 April 2021:

  • Anonymous #1 (repeat supporter, via PayPal)
  • Mack Bailey (via PayPal)
  • John McCoy (repeat supporter, via PayPal)
  • Peter Scheffler (via PayPal)
  • Johannes Stratmann (repeat donor, via PayPal)
  • The following friends contributed via the "Donate" button on one of the Center's Facebook postings or fund-raisers; some may be repeat contributors. Several have set up through Facebook to make a recurring monthly donation to benefit the Center.
    Anita Clemmer, Robin Jones, Liz Layton*, Lynn Biasini McElfresh, Lisa Fischer, Catherine Hutto, Lyn Boozer, Chuck Curran, Michael Dybel, Russell Rogers, Gretchen Locy, Carolyn Townley, Jacob Schnuckelsberger, Carolyn Yost, Sheldon Greaves, Wayne Wingate, Mary Alice Koeneke, Kim Beard, Bill Pennington, Derek Sikes, Kim Allman, Cheryl Ervin Hill, Alice Oldham, Jen Peelman, Dawn Hewitt.

    * = past participant in Operation RubyThroat Neotropical Hummingbird expedition)
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1-30 Apr 2021

Ruby-throated Hummingbird--9
American Redstart--3
Ruby-crowned Kinglet--2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher--1
Pine Siskin--31
American Goldfinch--14
Pine Warbler--1
House Wren--1
Carolina Chickadee--1
Black-throated Blue
White-eyed Vireo--3
Yellow-rumped Warbler--5
Chipping Sparrow--9
House Wren--2
Black-and-white Warbler--2
Common Yellowthroat--1
Northern Waterthrush--2
Indigo Bunting--3
Louisiana Waterthrush--2*
Northern Cardinal--7
Gray Catbird--6
Wood Thrush--1
Great Crested Flycatcher--1*
Brown-headed Cowbird--3
Purple Finch--2
House Finch--6
White-throated Sparrow--3
Eastern Bluebird--1
American Robin--1
Eastern Towhee--2
Brown Thrasher--1
Blue Jay--6
Mourning Dove--3

* = new banded species for 2020

33 species
138 individuals

39 species (40-yr. avg. = 63.7)

1,830 individuals
(40-yr. avg. =

9 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

(Banding began 28 June 1982; since then 173 species have been observed on or over the property.)
127 species banded
73,632 individuals banded

6,653 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds banded since 1984

(with original banding date, verified sex, and current age):
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (3)
06/05/18--after 4th year female

07/03/18--4th year female

07/05/20--2nd year female

Carolina Chickadee (7)
06/03/14--8th year male*
09/21/16--5th year female

06/02/19--3rd year female
04/22/20--after 2nd year male
05/29/20--2nd year female
06/01/20--2nd year unknown
06/08/20--2nd year female

Eastern Phoebe (1)
04/05/20--after 2nd year male

Northern Cardinal (18)
09/04/17--5th year male
09/23/18--after 4th year male
10/06/18--4th year female
10/24/18--after 4th year male

07/07/19--3rd year female
08/20/19--3rd year female
08/25/19--after 3rd year male
10/09/19--after 2nd year female
10/21/19--3rd year female
10/21/19--3rd year female (two birds)
10/21/19--3rd year male
10/23/19--after 2nd year male
05/21/20--after 2nd year female
07/26/20--2nd year male
09/04/20--2nd year male
09/27/20--2nd year female
10/03/20--2nd year female
10/26/20--2nd year female

White-throated Sparrow (4)
02/06/19--after 4th year male
11/30/19--3rd year unknown
11/30/19--3rd year unknown (two birds)
12/28/19--3rd year unknown

Tufted Titmouse (5)
07/27/18--4th year male
03/27/20--after 2nd year female
06/26/20--2nd year male
10/27/20--after hatch year female
12/15/20--after hatch year male

Carolina Wren (1)
06/08/20--2nd year male

Downy Woodpecker (2)
06/05/20--2nd year male
08/06/20--2nd year male

Hermit Thrush (2)
10/29/15--7th year unknown
03/27/20--3rd year unknown

House Finch (8)
12/31/17--after 4th year male
06/02/18--4th year male

01/02/20--after 2nd year female
01/22/20--after 2nd year female
02/09/20--after 2nd year male
05/21/20--after 2nd year male
06/20/20--2nd year male
11/22/20--after hatch year male

--Northern Cardinals (NOCA) were present in amazing numbers at the Center in April with 18 recaptures--including three banded on the same day in Oct 2019. We also banded seven new NOCA.

--As of 30 Apr, the Hilton Pond 2021 Yard List stood at 60--about 35% of 172 avian species encountered locally since 1982. (Incidentally, all 60 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 locally during the period 16-30 Apr: House Wren, Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, Eastern Phoebe, Indigo Bunting, Great Crested Flycatcher, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Waterthrush, Louisiana Waterthrush, Gray Catbird, Wood Thrush.

--Our immediate past installment of "This Week at Hilton Pond" was about bird feeder designs and avian diseases. It's archived and always available on our Web site as Installment #742.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

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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.