- Established 1982: Now In Our 33rd Year! -

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1-14 January 2014

Installment #588---Visitor #frontpage widget

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A few openings remain
for our March 2014
Operation RubyThroat
expedition to observe &
band hummingbirds in


We'll see & photograph lots of other birds and a variety of tropical flora & fauna.

Click on image of Jabiru stork or Snowflake Lily above for trip details.

More excursions for 2014-15 (including a new one to Honduras)
will be
announced in coming months.


As we enter our 33rd year at Hilton Pond Center we're reminded we've annually resolved to post a mid-winter photo essay about building nest boxes for Wood Ducks . . . but we never followed through. Woodies are freshwater ducks that hang around our pond spring through autumn, disappear when winter arrives, and reappear on or about 15 January. This year our first male (above left) showed up on the morning of the 13th, followed shortly thereafter by a hen; thus, we're bound and determined this year to get the box-building installment on-line in timely fashion.

It matters not if your domicile has a pond or stream or whether you live near a reservoir that might be an appropriate spot for a box housing your own Wood Ducks; nay, for an inexpensive purchase of materials and a few hours of labor you can build a box to be placed--with permission, of course--on a friend's farm or on a lake at your local nature center. Our personal zoning rules limit the number of duck boxes around Hilton Pond, so we can't accept any more these days--but we're sure someone would cherish a box you might make as a gift to Mother Nature and the local population of the Carolina Piedmont's most colorful waterfowl. And as caveat: Wood Duck pairs have been known to nest in hollow trees and artificial cavities up to a mile from aquatic habitats. If there's a safe corridor between your house and the closest pond or stream, give it a try; if nothing else your new nest box might get you a pair of Eastern Screech-Owls (above right)!

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

By way of full disclosure, we didn't actually build any of the six Wood Duck boxes (above) that grace Hilton Pond and a larger impoundment into which it flows. In the winter of 2008-09 representatives from South Carolina's Department of Natural Resources delivered six new boxes, poles, and predator guards to replace those we had received from them and installed 'way back in the summer of 1982--our very first year at what has become Hilton Pond Center. (NOTE: Brother Stan Hilton, brother-in-law Wes Ballard, and some of our high school students helped put up those first boxes.) Despite being made of rot-resistant Western White Cedar, the original boxes--which over 27 breeding seasons fledged in excess of 700 Wood Ducklings (above left)--were pretty much worn out and not likely to satisfy a discriminating Wood Duck hen or her drake.

We're thankful Stan returned in mid-March 2009 to help take down the old boxes and hang the new--a tumultuous event because the less-than-seaworthy raft on which we loaded nest boxes and our tools was victimized by swirling wind that blew us all over Hilton Pond. Despite these capricious zephyrs we did get four new boxes secured on their posts, followed a week later by two more boxes on the lower pond. Several pairs of woodies (below) took immediate interest in the new digs and started laying eggs within a week or so.

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

Wood Ducks, Aix sponsa, occupy natural cavities and fabricated structures in and near wetlands across a breeding range that historically covered all the eastern half of the U.S. and has now expanded considerably (see map below). The species even occurs as a vagrant in isolated Central American locales. There's little doubt nest box installation has had a positive impact on Wood Duck populations.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Wood Duck distribution map courtesy Terry Sohl, sdakotabirds.com

A quick-and-easy plan for making Wood Duck nest boxes that involves all right-angle cuts is shown below. Choose rot-resistant rough-sawn white cedar or cypress if possible; pine and plywood boxes typically disintegrate within several years, even if oil-based stains are applied to outside surfaces. (Do NOT stain the box interior, and don't use stain at all on cedar or cypress.) Locally harvested and milled Eastern Red Cedar can also be used and makes for a very aesthetic, long-lasting structure if you can get planks wide enough.

Be sure to permanently inscribe your name and installation date inside the lid or on the bottom outside. After assembling the box, erect it following our instructions below. Use only galvanized hardware; screws are better than nails.

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

  • Although Wood Ducks will nest in natural cavities up to a mile from water, the hen leads her ducklings on foot to the closest water after they depart the nest box; thus, it is better to have the box at or close to a pond, lake, stream, or river.
  • Place the nest box about 15' off the ground on the main trunk of a tree near water. As an option, you can wrap the tree with a two-foot-wide sheet of galvanized metal or aluminum as a precaution against predators.

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

  • For pond placement, drive a 4" x 4" treated wood pole two feet into the underwater substrate at least 6' from shore. Hang the box with its bottom about 4' above water level; a 2"-3" galvanized pipe can also be used, but be sure to attach the box so it can't pivot or slide on the pole. In either case, a cone-shaped galvanized metal predator guard is recommended (see photo above) to deter Raccoons, snakes, and other egg- or duck-hungry creatures.
  • Aim the nest box opening away from the shore so ducklings will be sure to hit water when they make their first jump.
  • Place the box where it can be monitored and cleaned easily and safely by ladder or from a boat, keeping in mind that water levels can vary by several feet season to season and year to year.
  • Don't place more than one nest box per half-acre of pond or "dump-nesting" may occur, with several females placing eggs and down (see photo above right) in a box that never gets incubated. When possible, place multiple boxes so their openings are not visible from each other.
  • After erecting the box, place a 4" layer of fresh, dry wood chips (pine or cedar) in the bottom.

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

Note the following for established nest boxes for Wood Ducks (drake above, in full breeding plumage):

  • Not later than mid-January each year, replace any faulty hardware or cracked wooden panels. Make sure the roof is still intact and shedding water. (Some Wood Duck enthusiasts place asphalt singles on the roof as added protection from the elements. We suggest you NOT use metal roofing that may cause a box to overheat on hot spring days.)
  • Clean out each established nest box every year, tossing old, unhatched eggs and soiled wood shavings; replace the latter with a fresh four-inch layer. One good reason to check old boxes in January is because stinging insects often co-habit with woodies but are inactive during cold weather. Carefully remove nests of paper wasps or mud daubers; transport them to another sheltered location if you are conscientious enough to want to protect these beneficial insects.

NOTE: Drill several 1/4" holes in bottom of box to allow for water drainage

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

IMPORTANT NOTE: Remember that just because you are trying to attract Wood Ducks to your new (or old) nest box does not mean you should discourage other native cavity nesters that may choose to move in. Other potential tenants include Eastern Screech-Owls (mentioned above), plus various woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, bluebirds, wrens, and Great Crested Flycatchers (below, perched on box with Carolina Mantid). We've even hosted families of Southern Flying Squirrels in our duck boxes! (Parenthetical Important Note: Feel free to evict non-native European Starlings or House Sparrows whose presence has a negative impact on many of our native bird species.)

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

Although the calendar says it's still too early for Wood Ducks to actually be laying eggs, it's important to have your nest boxes up and in good shape by about mid-January. (Folks living further north than the Carolina Piedmont have additional time, of course, but don't procrastinate too long.) Competition for females has begun by now in the Carolinas and likely pairs are already starting to inspect prospective nest sites; thus, you'll want to have your new nest box completed for woodies before they're ready to get down to business.

If you use our plans and/or attract Wood Ducks to your nest box, send us an e-mail and a clear photo or two at RESEARCH. Please also consider making a New Year's contribution in support of Hilton Pond Center's Wood Duck conservation efforts and other nature-related endeavors.

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

(payable to: funding@hiltonpond.org)

All contributions are tax-deductible on your
income tax form

See list of recent supporters below

"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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We're pleased that folks were thinking about the work of the Center and making end-of-year contributions that were fully deductible on 2013 income tax returns. Please join them in 2014 if you can via PayPal, Network for Good, or personal check (c/o 1432 DeVinney Road, York SC 29745).

  • Anonymous, in memory of Al Kahmer (via Network for Good)
  • Kimberly-Clark Foundation (corporate donation to match an earlier gift from employee Gavin MacDonald, alumnus of five Operation RubyThroat expeditions)
  • Beverly & Alan Oyler (via Network for Good)
  • Donald Woodward (via PayPal)
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The Piedmont Naturalist--Vol. 1--1986 (Hilton Pond Press) is an award-winning collection of 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 volume are available by clicking on the links below. The digital version includes pen-and-ink drawings from the original edition--plus lots of new color photos. All sales go
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1-14 January 2014

Ruby-crowned Kinglet--1
Chipping Sparrow--3 *
Song Sparrow--1
White-throated Sparrow--3
House Finch--2
Mourning Dove--3

* = New banded species for 2014

6 species
13 individuals

6 species (33-yr. avg. = 65.0)

13 individuals
(33-yr. avg. =

(since 28 June 1982, during which time 171 species have been observed on or over the property)
126 species
59,695 individuals
4,837 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

(with original banding date, sex, and current age):
Chipping Sparrow (1)
01/01/09--after 6th year unknown

This Week at Hilton Pond
is part of the

Nature Blog Network

--1 Jan 2014 marked our 33rd year of bird banding at Hilton Pond Center, established when we purchased the property back in 1982. In more than three decades since then we've banded 59,682 birds of 126 species and look toward the 60,000 mark this spring. (After a sluggish autumn, we're back to banding again--albeit at a slow pace indicated by the list above left.) As the longest-running and most active year-round banding station in the Carolinas, we've learned many interesting things about bird migration, longevity, site fidelity, and population dynamics in the Piedmont Physiographic Province.

--We've detailed on-line many of our discoveries about avifauna and other aspects of nature, so we invite you to peruse archived installments of "This Week at Hilton Pond" to compare this year's happenings with those of the 1980's . . . and thereafter. Since our photo essays are optimized for cell phone and tablet, you can download back installments and evaluate them during your next snowstorm, flight, or hotel stay. Happy Nature Reading!

--As always, we started a new "Yard List" on 1 Jan to keep track of birds we observe on or over the Center during the calendar year. As of 14 Jan we've spotted 27 species--about 16% of the 171 species encountered locally since 1982.

--The immediate past installment of "This Week at Hilton Pond" was our end-of-year summary of bird banding activity at the Center. The write-up is archived and always available on the Center's Web site as Installment #587.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Oct 15 to Mar 15:
East of the Rockies please report your sightings of
Vagrant & Winter Hummingbirds

(immature male Rufous Hummingbird at right)

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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.

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