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By Seanna Adcox
The Herald
Rock Hill, South Carolina
(Published September 7, 2000)

RICHBURG - When W.C. and Pauline Gladden spotted a brown-and-rust-colored hummingbird at one of their feeders, they knew he was no ordinary bird.

So they called local hummingbird expert Bill Hilton Jr., who recognized the stray immediately--a Rufous Hummingbird that originates in the Rocky Mountains and from as far north as Alaska.

"This bird was obviously off-track," said Hilton, who runs the 11-acre Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History, a nonprofit education and research site on his property in York. "It's wandering around, not following its migrational pathway."

The young Western bird should be on his way to Central America for the winter, as his fellow hummingbirds are. But for some reason, he decided to explore, Hilton said.

Only the ruby-throated hummingbirds--a much more colorful bird--breed here in the East, he said.

"I thought it was amazing," said Pauline Gladden about finding the bird. "I was thrilled to death to see it. He's so different from the others, and the thought that it would come to my yard!"

Every winter, a few Rufouses are found in the Carolinas. Some even decide to spend the winter because they're more tolerant of the cold than their ruby-throated kin.

The Gladdens, who live one mile south of Richburg, came to Hilton's "Hummingbird Mornings" program last month at Stacy's Greenhouses in York. During the program, Hilton explained the bird's migrating patterns and gave a banding demonstration. So when the Gladdens discovered the wandering bird, they knew who to call.

Hilton, who holds a master banding permit from the federal government, has banded 38,000 birds of 122 different species over the past 19 years, including 2,300 hummingbirds.

The purpose of banding, which doesn't hurt the creature, is to track the birds in order to learn more about them and ensure their survival.

"It's a way to get information about the birds we can't get any other way," Hilton said.

Hilton banded the Gladdens' Rufous within about 30 minutes on Saturday--one of only three he's banded in the past five years.

"The bird may die. It may change its mind and go on to Central America," he said. "Nobody knows. They've never found one there after it's been banded."

The ruby-throated hummingbird's migration to Central and South America began last month and should end by mid-October. But Hilton advises hummingbird enthusiasts to go ahead and keep one feeder out during the winter.

"You never know when a vagrant might wander through," he said.


Contact Seanna Adcox at 329-4072 or sadcox@heraldonline.com.

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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 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.