15-21 July 2003
(Installment #181)


Whenever we tell folks that Hilton Pond Center is the most active permanent bird banding site in the Carolinas, they typically ask how many birds we have banded. They seem impressed to hear that, since 1982, we've captured and released almost 43,000 birds of 123 species. Then they ask how many of our birds have been found somewhere else after banding, and almost always a surprised expression comes across their faces when we say that, as of this week, only 45 have been reported from outside our home county of York, and 26 more within the county.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

That look of surprise is usually followed by some indication of disappointment, as if 71 of 43,000 was some sort of failure on our part, or even a waste of our time. Among all U.S. and Canadian banders-- including those who handle waterfowl and other game birds shot by hunters--the annual average for foreign recoveries is close to 1%-2%, while our miniscule total during more than two decades of banding at Hilton Pond stands at 0.165%. As we see it, these low numbers are definitely not a waste of time, especially since our 21-year study has given us ample opportunity to recapture many of our own birds year after year after year.

Our most commonly banded birds at Hilton Pond are House Finches (6,744) and Purple Finches (5,673); together they make up 29% of all birds captured locally, and many have returned in subsequent years. It shouldn't be surprising that these two species are also the most likely to be recaptured or found elsewhere; in all, 14 House Finches and 11 Purple Finches have been encountered outside York County. Just this week, in fact, we got a "Report to Bander" (below right) from the federal Bird Banding Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland that one of our House Finches (hatch-year male, top photo) and two Purple Finches had been reported by finders.

The most recent encounter was reported by Betty O'Leary, who works at the Carolina Raptor Center in Charlotte NC as the Education Bird Coordinator. Betty also holds a bird banding subpermit and helps with spring banding projects at some of the Charlotte- Mecklenburg parks. When she gets off work, Betty drives home to Iron Station, North Carolina, where she maintains feeders frequented by the usual assortment of seed-eating birds. In early May of this year, Betty noticed that a reddish male House Finch in her yard had a band on his left leg and, being curious about his origin, borrowed some mist nets to try to capture the bird.

After days of rain and missed attempts, Betty finally netted the House Finch on 23 May, carefully read and recorded his band number (1571-51472), and released the bird. Then she dutifully contacted the banding lab (via phone at 1-800-217-BAND, or on-line at the BBL Web site). Last week, Betty received a Certificate of Appreciation (sample, below left) from the banding lab with information about where and when the House Finch was banded, and Hilton Pond Center got a printout with details of where and when the recapture was made, and by whom. As a result we were able to call Betty and get her first-hand observations described above.

Interestingly, this House Finch was banded at Hilton Pond in mid-winter (15 Dec 2001) and showed up at Betty's place 27 miles to the north at the peak of the breeding season. All of this raises some interesting questions about whether this particular bird found South Carolina winters to be balmier than those just across the border, or whether he was just stopping off at Betty's place on his way to breed even even further north. (Betty is keeping vigil to see whether she can spot the banded bird again this summer prior to fall migration.)

On the banding lab printout documenting Betty's encounter were reports of two Purple Finches. One of these (#1571-50205) didn't get to wander very far; it was banded on 23 Jan 2000 and five days later flew into a picture window outside the home of Florence Dey, who lives scarcely a half mile from Hilton Pond. Ms. Dey checked over the dead bird, read the band number, and reported it to the banding lab.

The second Purple Finch (#1571-50273) accumulated a few more years and many more miles after visiting Hilton Pond Center. It was captured by us along with 13 other Purple Finches and a House Finch on 29 Jan 2000, banded, and released. Unlike House Finches, some of which are non-migratory and spend their entire life locally, Purple Finches leave the Carolina Piedmont each spring and fly to breeding areas up the Appalachians and as far north as Central Canada. Thus we were pleased but not surprised to learn that on 26 Jun 2002, Juliette Russell of Kingston, Ontario, encountered our Hilton Pond Purple Finch at Plevna, Ontario. Ms. Russell caught the bird by hand--perhaps it, too, had been stunned by flying into a window--but in this case was able to release the bird alive after reading its band. We've written to Ms. Russell in the hopes of learning the specific circumstances of the bird's capture and to ask what color it was. When we banded the Purple Finch in 2000, it was brown and of undetermined sex (above right); if it was actually a male, it would have acquired its raspberry plumage by the time it was found in Ontario--718 air miles from Hilton Pond Center!

For the record, the Plevna recapture is not our most-traveled bird. That honor goes to a Purple Finch banded at Hilton Pond Center in March 1988. In June 1990 this bird was reported from Lewisporte, Newfoundland --1,660 miles away from York and at the very northern edge of the range for this species (see map below). Unfortunately, the bird was found dead, possibly exhausted after flying further in migration than many of us are willing to drive in a car!

No, we don't get many reports of banded birds away from Hilton Pond, but when we do they're always interesting, so we pause to reflect on all that banding can tell us about avian migration, longevity, and site fidelity. In our view, learning more about those kinds of things--despite our low numbers of foreign encounters--makes all that time spent banding our wandering finches very much worth the effort.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

NOTE: Lists of all birds banded at Hilton Pond and those encountered elsewhere are accessible from Charts & Tables of Banding Results. Also see our on-line article about Carpodacus finches in South Carolina's Piedmont: Migration, site fidelity, sex ratios, and longevity.

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In 2003, informative and entertaining hummingbird banding presentations are scheduled at locations in South Carolina, Kentucky/Tennessee & Virginia.
(Click on image at left for details.)

If your group would like to host "Hummingbird Mornings" anywhere in
the U.S. or Canada in 2003 or later,
Bill Hilton Jr.

Please report your sightings of

15-21 July 2003

Ruby-throated Hummingbird--10
White-eyed Vireo--2
Black-and-white Warbler--1
Louisiana Waterthrush--1
Red-eyed Vireo--1
House Finch--9
Carolina Wren--1
Tufted Titmouse--2
American Robin--2

* = New species for 2003

9 species
29 individuals

46 species
689 individuals

(since 28 June 1982)
123 species
42,803 individuals

(with original banding date, sex, and current age)

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (2)
07/28/01--after 3rd year male
06/24/02--after 2nd year female

Carolina Wren (1)
05/27/02--after 2nd year female

This Week at Hilton Pond
is part of the


--The summer of 2003 has brought more severe thunderstorms to Hilton Pond Center than we can remember. A particularly violent front moved through on the evening of 16 Jul, when a brilliant flash of lightning followed instantaneously by a crack of thunder indicated a nearby strike. When we went out at daybreak on the 17th to survey possible damage, we suspected a tree on the property had been struck. Instead, we found that a 30-foot-tall power pole--from which aerial lines were removed in Feb 2000--had exploded and flung large chunks of creosoted wood up to ten yards or more. Curiously, an adjoining Eastern Red Cedar that stood ten feet taller than the pole was apparently unscathed.

--Members of the Carolina Butterfly Society visited Hilton Pond on 19 July for a Guided Field Trip. Lepidopteran species seen included: Hackberry Emperor, American Snout, Wood Satyr, Red Admiral, Carolina Satyr, Red Spotted Purple, American Lady, Northern Pearly Eye, Question Mark, and an unidentified Duskywing.


All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center
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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 website, contact the Webmaster