- Established 1982 -

HOME: www.hiltonpond.org

Educator-Naturalist, Writer,
Scientist & Environmentalist

(Page updated 10/26/23)

People sometimes ask me "Who are you?" or "What do you do?" I am fortunate that—for me—these are one and the same. I simply reply I am an "educator-naturalist," and I ALWAYS put "educator" first. After all, there's no use learning exciting new things about nature unless I share that knowledge with others.

---Dr. Bill Hilton Jr.

DR. BILL HILTON JR. was twice named South Carolina Science Teacher of the Year and was honored as the state's Outstanding Biology Teacher. In December 2008 Discover magazine cited him as one of "50 Best Brains in Science" and one of ten top amateur scientists in America. In May 2013 he gave the commencement address at Newberry College and was awarded an honorary doctorate (Doctor of Science, D.Sci.) for a trend-setting professional career and for life-long service to the College. In 2023 the governor of South Carolina presented Hilton "The Order of the Palmetto"--the state's highest civilian award--for a lifetime of achievement in science education, natural history research, and environmental conservation.

In the 1970s Hilton was active in a Sierra Club campaign to make Congaree Swamp (South Carolina) a national park; he and one of his Fort Mill High School students testified before Congress in Washington DC in what ultimately was a successful effort. In 1998, The Charlotte Observer named Hilton a Carolinas Guardian of the Environment, in part for his efforts to protect the Catawba River. In 2012 he was appointed an international Fellow of the Citizens Scientists League, and Newberry College--his undergraduate alma mater--honored Hilton as one of four charter members of its Hall of Master Teachers. In 2023, he was inducted into the Fort Mill (SC) School District Education Hall of Fame.

In 2006 Hilton received the Outstanding Alumnus Award and the Alumni Ring Award from Newberry College. The faculty also gave him their highest honor, the Luceo Mea Luce Award ("By my light I enlighten") for "his distinguished, wide-ranging, and dedicated service to the College, his unwavering commitment to and encouragement of academic excellence, and his personal example of life-long learning." In 2007 Newberry College also awarded Hilton the Sesquicentennial (150th Anniversary) Medal of Honor, and in 2021 the Alumni Distinguished Service Award. His achievements likewise have been recognized by the two schools from which he holds masters degrees: Winthrop University and the University of Minnesota's College of Biological Sciences.

In 2006 Hilton traveled to Japan as guest of Yamagata University, which awarded him the Prize for Excellence in an international competition for projects involving "Nature and Human Symbiosis."

Hilton taught in
Rock Hill and Fort Mill SC high schools, and at the University of Minnesota, St. Olaf College, and Winthrop University. At Minnesota he also coordinated and taught adult education nature courses for the university's Bell Museum of Natural History. Hilton helped launch the residential South Carolina Governor's School for Science and Mathematics in Hartsville, which he served as charter biology instructor and director of student research. During many summers he taught the nation's brightest young science minds as Natural Sciences Coordinator and Program Director at the National Youth Science Camp in Bartow WV, which he first attended as a South Carolina delegate upon graduation from high school.

Dr. Hilton continues his work as an educator through lectures and workshops he presents for students and teachers in schools and school districts and for other groups across the country; as a consultant in science curriculum design and implementation and in outdoor learning; and as a widely published author on nature and education. He has special interest in teaching science in cross-disciplinary fashion by integrating it into other subject areas.

Hilton has studied extensively and/or trained students, teachers, biologists, and "citizen scientists" of all ages in the District of Columbia and 22 states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia & Wisconsin), and abroad in Australia, Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador (above), Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua & Nova Scotia.

Dr. Hilton is based near York, South Carolina, at
Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History (www.hiltonpond.org), a 501(c)(3) non-profit research, education,
and conservation organization he founded on family property in 1982 and has served since as Executive Director. An active field researcher, Hilton has banded more than 78,700 birds of 128 species during 42 years just at Hilton Pond. He is one of less than 100 people authorized to capture wild hummingbirds and has banded and released 7,509 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds at the Center since 1984, with 3,000-plus captured elsewhere. He also investigates other aspects of natural history, from pollination to predation and ecological succession to environmental change.

Hilton has led more than 260 U.S., Canadian, Swiss, and Costa Rican citizen scientists on 30 Neotropical hummingbird field expeditions to Central America. (More than three dozen alumni have been on two or more trips, and two have been on seven!) His expeditions include 12 to Guanacaste Province, Costa Rica, where he became the first researcher to systematically band and observe Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (RTHU) on their non-breeding grounds in the tropics; to date, 798 have been banded in Guanacaste. He also led ten expeditions to Ujarrás, Costa Rica to band another 531 wintering RTHU on the Caribbean slope where "they're not supposed to be." On solo trips he was the first scientist to band ruby-throats in El Salvador (2 RTHU) and Guatemala (58 RTHU), and led seven hummingbird expeditions to Belize in 2010-15 (149 RTHU), one group trip to Guatemala in 2011 (4 more RTHU), and one group trip to band the first RTHU in Nicaragua in 2013 (15 banded) followed by a final expedition there to band three more in 2016.

Hilton's Ruby-throated Hummingbirds banding total in Central America now stands at 1,540--far more than the 46 that had been banded in Mexico and Central America prior to his work.

In September 1999 Hilton and the Center formally launched Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project, a cross-disciplinary initiative that builds international collaboration among students and teachers by using distribution and behavior of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds,
Archilochus colubris, as core topics. This award-winning project--for which Hilton is Principal Investigator--is described on its own Web site, www.rubythroat.org. In the past 24 years Operation RubyThroat received more than $450,000 in prestigious grants, donations, and in-kind support from the National Science Foundation, National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, ConocoPhillips Petroleum, The Christensen Fund, and other foundations, corporations, small businesses, and private individuals. (With major grants having run out, contributions of any size are welcome and needed.)

The project was also affiliated with The GLOBE Program through which Hilton was involved in GLOBE ONE--a collaborative field campaign that trained Iowa teachers, students, and citizen scientists to study landscape-wide relationships between agricultural practices and the environment.

Hilton is author of
The Piedmont Naturalist, a volume of essays that won a small press award; long out-of-print, it is now available as a downloadable e-Book for reading on portable devices such as Kindle, Nook, iPhone, IPad, and iPod, and on desktop computers. His writings have appeared in major newspapers; nationally distributed periodicals such as Bird Watcher's Digest, WildBird, The Chat, Senior Directions, and South Carolina Wildlife; Texas Birds Annual; in the Smithsonian's Bring Back the Birds (a primer on saving threatened species); and on various Internet Web sites. This Week at Hilton Pond, his on-going series of photo essays about nature phenomena in the Carolina Piedmont, has a large international following; more than 740 installments are permanently archived on-line. This Week consistently ranks among the most-visited natural history blogs on the Web. In 2022 Hilton was elected a Fellow in the International League of Conservation Writers; the following year he had three nature poems published in the anthology Dawn Songs: A Birdwatcher's Field Guide to the Poetics of Migration.

Hilton also publishes his research results in peer-reviewed professional journals (see Selected Scientific & Education Publications). Hilton has been interviewed about nature topics by many newspapers and on U.S. and Canadian public and commercial radio and television broadcasts. He wrote and produced "Hawk Mountain Naturalist" for an Allentown PA public radio station and was writer/host for a popular Rock Hill SC-based TV series about nature happenings in the Carolina Piedmont.

In 1988 Hilton was awarded an
Earthwatch Teaching Fellowship to help study Honeyeaters (Aves: Meliphagidae) on Kangaroo Island, Australia. In 1991 he received a Cooperative Fellowship through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to conduct environmental education research for an international program. He also collaborated with the National Research Council in developing national science standards and continues to work with states and school districts to align curricula with those standards.

Hilton served as education director at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Pennsylvania and as director of education and research at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden in North Carolina. He is past member of the board of directors of the Catawba Lands Conservancy, was Conservation Chair with the local Sierra Club, and served on education committees of the National Council for Science and the Environment in Washington DC and for the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign.

Dr. Hilton works professionally with outdoor learning and nature centers to design trails, interpretive exhibits, and comprehensive environmental education programs. He trains center personnel in Socratic teaching methods to assure their visitors have genuine learning experiences. He likewise consults with non-profit nature-related organizations and school districts on fund-raising, grant writing, staff and board development, programming, media relations, and long-range planning.
Hilton is a nationally sought-after speaker on diverse natural history and science education topics (see List of Presentations); each August and September his Hummingbird Mornings are lauded by audiences across the U.S. In 2005 he taught on faculty for the National Wildlife Federation's annual Family Summit in New Brunswick, Canada. Later that year he was invited by ProAves Colombia to San Andres Island in the western Caribbean to train 60 Colombian conservationists in hummingbird capture, handling, and banding techniques. In July 2008, Hilton began exchange work as Consulting Director for
New River Birding & Nature Center at Wolf Creek Park in Fayette County WV.

Dr. Hilton has a Bachelor of Arts
(A.B.) in Philosophy from
Newberry College (1970), which he served in 2004-06 as president of the Alumni Association and as a member of the College's Board of Trustees. He originated and was chair of the highly successful international John Bachman Symposium, which recognized Newberry's founder during the College's 150th anniversary year (2006). Bachman (right), for whom Bachman's Warbler and Bachman's Sparrow are named, was a contemporary of John James Audubon and wrote all text for their three-volume Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America.

Hilton earned a Master of Arts in Teaching (M.A.T.) in Biology from Winthrop University (1977), through which he inventoried and studied ferns of York County SC. He has a Master of Science (M.S.) in Ecology & Behavioral Biology from University of Minnesota (1982), where he conducted a ground-breaking four-year field investigation of behavioral ecology of Blue Jays, Cyanocitta cristata.

Dr. Hilton's job allows him to do all day what he likes best, so his vocational activities are almost indistinguishable from his hobbies: Observing, photographing, studying, writing, and teaching about birds and the rest of nature. He also enjoys researching family genealogy, pedaling Carolinas highways and byways on his 20-speed carbon fiber Fuji road bike, and listening to jazz
(especially big band, bossa nova, and western swing). Susan Dressler Ballard Hilton--his beloved wife of 50+ years--and their two adult sons Billy III and Garry all share an interest in and affection for the world of nature that came, in part, from growing up together at Hilton Pond.

Click below for a complete
for Dr. Bill Hilton Jr.

If you're interested in family histories, check out
Bill Hilton Jr.'s
Genealogy Pages

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