- Established 1982 -


1-15 April 2023

Installment #804---Visitor #web counter

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After that fleeting feeder visit by a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird (RTHU) on 29 March 2023--three days later than our early record at Hilton Pond Center--we've been waiting for a second one to show. That finally happened on 3 April when a RTHU hit our mist nets just as we were closing them near dusk.

It was another gorgeted male and we noticed immediately he had a band on his left leg--undoubtedly a return from a previous banding season at the Center. We quickly extracted the bird and brought him in to the banding table, wanting to get him processed before dark. We were surprised his throat looked much more magenta than red (see photo below); that said, there is considerable variation in the ruby hue of male ruby-throats.

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

After a quick series of measurements we checked our files to learn we first captured this hummer locally as an adult in a pull-string trap on 11 April last year, meaning he had to have hatched in 2021 or earlier. Thus, he's at least a three-year-old individual and likely was making his third seasonal visit. We took a quick set of photos under artificial light--alas, not as definitive as we might have liked--fed the bird some sugar water, and sent him on his way.

In this, our 40th year of studying Ruby-throated Hummingbirds--we are still enthralled a tiny bird weighing less than a nickel gets banded at the Center, flies perhaps 1,500 miles to the Neotropics, and returns to this very same backyard in York SC. Animal migration is truly one of the most fascinating and mysterious aspects of the natural world, so we'll keep on banding hummers at Hilton Pond in the hope of learning what we can.

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


On the morning of 5 April we were running a few ground traps baited with mixed seed and cracked corn, hoping to capture a few pass-through sparrows to band at Hilton Pond Center. Instead, we snared a very young Mourning Dove (MODO), grayish in color and recently fledged from some nearby nest.

The dove was immediately recognizable as a youngster because of buffy edging on nearly all its body feathers and wing coverts (see photo below); this gave a scalloping effect especially noticeable on breast, back, and rump. These soft edges wear off fairly quickly--hastened by self-preening--so soon this young MODO will look more smooth and dovey brown than gray.

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

Some folks might be surprised to learn we caught such a young bird this early in April, but "early breeding" is par for the course in Mourning Doves. It has been said the species breeds somewhere in the continental U.S. every month. Here in South Carolina MODO likely nest during at least eight months of the calendar year, producing multiple broods and skipping only the coldest mid-winter period. It's no wonder that according to some estimates Mourning Doves are the fourth-most abundant bird species in North America. (Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology's "Top Ten" list is below. Compare these numbers to 7.3 million Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, 5,000 endangered Kirtland's Warblers, and about 200 California Condors in the wild.)

  1. Dark-eyed Junco--630 million
  2. American Robin--320 million
  3. Red-winged Blackbird--230 million
  4. Mourning Dove--140 million
  5. American Goldfinch--70 million
  6. Yellow-rumped Warbler--68 million
  7. Song Sparrow--60 million
  8. European Starling--40 million
  9. Northern Cardinal--30 million
  10. Blue Jay--15 million

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


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

The 6th of April would have been the 78th birthday of best friend Dr. Jim Shuman, who unexpectedly passed away last October. Jim served 24 years as founding president of the Board of Trustees of Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History and was a major part of my life--and that of The Goddess--for nearly six decades. This past winter at the Center we planted three hybrid American Chestnut saplings in his memory. I was delighted this week on Jim's birthday anniversary to see all three "took" and were producing bright green foliage as spring unfolds. Peace.

--Bill Hilton Jr.

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


At Hilton Pond Center we'll never-ever-never get tired of spring blossoms of Pinxter-flower, a native azalea that outshines all those various imported cultivars planted far and wide. Even as its earliest flowers die and dangle from oversized pistils (see photos, with multiple yellow-tipped stamens still attached), the shrub's big inflorescence still delights the eye.

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

Pinxter-flower--like most azaleas--is a rhododendron, specifically R. periclymenoides, although we much prefer its old name R. nudiflorum for its habit of making flowers before any leaves appear. "Pinxter" comes from an Old Dutch word meaning Pentecost because in northern parts of its eastern U.S. range the species blooms well after Easter Week. Not so here at Hilton Pond, where this year the shrubs are essentially done with flowering by Easter on 9 April. Many observers associate the opening of Pinxter-flowers with the arrival of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, although in our experience the flowers come a week or two earlier.

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

Easter weekend had a wet prelude in the Carolina Piedmont. The Center's digital rain gauge filled on the 8th with 2.24" of cold rain that followed 0.51" the day before. We're pleased Easter sunrise brought blue skies and cast lots of cheery sunshine on the last of our Pinxter-flower blossoms.

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


It was a busy and diverse spring day on 12 April at Hilton Pond Center, with the following birds captured for banding: Nine Brown-headed Cowbirds, four American Goldfinches, and one each of Field Sparrow, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Eastern Phoebe, White-throated Sparrow, and Mourning Dove.

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

Also on the 12th we finally captured our first unbanded Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the new season, a female (after banding and color-marking, above). It's VERY unusual for our first RTHU banding of the season NOT to be an adult male. On average by this date over 40 years of study we would have banded seven males.

NOTE 1: All ruby-throats at the Center are marked with temporary non-toxic green dye to minimize recapturing them in our pull-string and electronic traps. The dye wears off in a few weeks. Be alert for any color-marked hummingbirds, especially during migration. If you see one, try to get a photo and contact us at RESEARCH.

NOTE 2: The hummer in our photo above had more and darker throat streaking--gray, not red or green--than is typically seen in females, whose throats are often pristine white.

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

One more capture worthy of note this week was a second-year male Indigo Bunting (INBU, above and below). Older males are a breathtaking solid blue, but this one was a calico mix of brown and indigo. At fledge time last year this younger male would have been all mousy brown like female INBU of any age. While in the Neotropics he started acquiring his complement of blue adult feathers but never finished; this time next year he should have full blue attire.

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

Incidentally, Indigo Buntings commonly come to sunflower seed feeders--especially in spring migration--so keep an eye out for the next few weeks. (Some INBU will continue northward; the species breeds across the eastern half of North America from Florida to southern Canada--and even in the southwestern U.S.)

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

NOTE: Although folks sometimes confuse brown female INBU (above) with brown female Brown Headed Cowbirds (below), the bill in the latter is all black and noticeably pointed. Indigo Bunting bills are more conical and bi-colored, with the top black and bottom bone-colored.

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

(from our on-going series)

"Never trust a person too lazy to get up for sunrise
or too busy to watch the sunset."

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

Sunset over Hilton Pond, 4 April 2023

Perhaps one of the last clear reflections as Rootless Duckweed
again begins to blanket the pond.

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

Don't forget to scroll down for lists of Hilton Pond supporters and of all birds banded and recaptured during the period.

Photoshop image post-processing for this page employs
DeNoise AI, Sharpen AI, and other Topaz Labs tools

"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, fellow scientists, and the general public. Please scroll below to the blue section 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/Vimeo (; 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 donors made contributions to Hilton Pond Center during the period 1-15 April 2023.

  • Anonymous #1 ($17 recurring monthly donation via payPal)
  • Wade Geery (via Network for Good)
  • Ray Rappold (via PayPal; in memory of Dr. Jim Shuman)
  • The friends below contributed via the "Donate" button on one of the Center's Facebook postings or fundraisers; some are repeat contributors. Several have set up through Facebook to make a recurring monthly donation to benefit the Center. Many are much-appreciated long-time and/or repeat donors.
    --Kerry Hindall, Tom Givnish, Chuck Curran
    * = Past participant in Operation RubyThroat Neotropical Hummingbird expedition

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The Piedmont Naturalist--Vol. 1--1986 (Hilton Pond Press)
is an award-winning collection of timeless 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 paperback volume are available by clicking on the links below. The digital version includes pen-and-ink drawings from the original print edition--plus lots of new color photos.
All sales go to support the work of
Hilton Pond Center.


1-15 April 2023

Ruby-crowned Kinglet--1*
American Redstart--1*
Field Sparrow--3*
American Goldfinch--21
Chipping Sparrow--9
Eastern Phoebe--1*
White-eyed Vireo--1*
Indigo Bunting--1*
Brown-headed Cowbird--19
Northern Cardinal--2
Red-winged Blackbird--1*
Tufted Titmouse--1*
Hermit Thrush--1*
Carolina Wren--3*
White-throated Sparrow--7
House Finch--2
Brown Thrasher--2*

Mourning Dove--8

* = new banded species for 2023

18 species
84 individuals

35 species (42-yr. avg. = 65.4)

891 individuals
(42-yr. avg. =

1 Ruby-throated Hummingbird

(Banding began 28 June 1982; since then 173 species have been observed on or over the property.)
128 species banded
77,957 individuals banded

7,191 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds banded since 1984

(with original banding date, verified sex, and current age):
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (1)
04/11/22--after 2nd year male

Chipping Sparrow (2)
04/03/20--after 4th year unknown
01/20/22--after 2nd year unknown

American Goldfinch (3)
02/06/21--4th year female
02/01/22--after 3rd year male

02/11/22--after 2nd year female

Carolina Chickadee (3)
04/02/22--after 2nd year male
04/13/22--after 2nd year male
09/26/22--2nd year male

Brown-headed Nuthatch (1)
09/14/21--3rd year female

Northern Cardinal (2)
10/15/17--7th year male**
08/16/20--4th year female

Downy Woodpecker (4)
08/21/16--8th year male**
12/21/21--3rd year female
07/11/22--after 2nd year female
09/01/22--2nd year male

Tufted Titmouse (3)
07/27/18--6th year male**
06/28/20--4th year male

06/19/21--3rd year female

White-throated Sparrow (3)
11/30/19--5th year unknown
12/31/20--after 3rd year unknown

01/25/22--3rd year unknown

House Finch (4)
06/10/22--2nd year female
07/27/22--2nd year female
08/05/22--2nd year male
08/28/22--2nd year male

Purple Finch (1)
03/17/21--after 4th year male

** Notable local longevity for species
*** Longevity record for Hilton Pond

--Brown-headed Cowbirds continue to appear at Hilton Pond Center in higher numbers than usual. Through mid-April 2023 we've captured 39--our third-highest total. (We caught 90 in 1988, and 63 in 1991; the 42-year average is 14.)

--We re-caught quite a few "old" birds during the first half of April at the Center, including an 8th-year male Downy Woodpecker with a prominent brood patch. Other signficant returns/recaptures are in the column at lower left.

--As of 15 Apr, Hilton Pond's 2023 Yard List stood at 59--about 34% of 173 avian species encountered locally since 1982. Our record for one calendar year is 111, reached in 2020 & 2021. (Incidentally, all species so far this year have been observed from windows, porches, or the yard around 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, where you, too, can be a "citizen scientist!") New species observed locally during the period 1-15 April: Chimney Swift, Fish Crow, Brown Thrasher, White-eyed Vireo, American Redstart, Indigo Bunting, Field Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird.

--Our immediate past installment of "This Week at Hilton Pond" was about gnatcatchers, cowbirds, and our failed Black Vulture nest and is archived and always available on our Web site as Installment #803.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Please report your spring, summer &
fall 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.