The Naturalist's Corner: Birds in the hand

Recaptured Carolina wren. Bill Hilton Jr. photo Recaptured Carolina wren. Bill Hilton Jr. photo

The Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History in York, South Carolina, is one of the few year round banding stations in the region. 

Bill Hilton Jr., executive director and master bander at the center, has been banding birds at Hilton Pond for 36 years. Every year Hilton posts a summary of the year’s effort in his online weekly newsletter, “This Week at Hilton Pond.”

According to this year’s summary 1,941 birds were banded at Hilton Pond. This is just a little above the 36-year average of 1,858. The individuals represented 65 different species, which is also about average. Four species, American goldfinch, purple finch, house finch and ruby-throated hummingbird, made up 63 percent of the total birds banded in 2017.

This year’s banding summary plus an overview of banding through the years is available online at Some interesting takeaways from this year’s efforts include a purple finch first banded on March 13, 2009, and recaptured Feb. 20, 2017, making it a tenth-year bird. One song sparrow was recaptured on Nov. 14, 2017 marking the fourth time it had been recaptured since it’s initial banding in 2010, making it an 8th-year bird — the longevity record for song sparrows is 11 years. Another interesting recapture was a 5th-year hermit thrush first banded on New Year’s Eve in 2013. Hermit thrushes do not nest in the Piedmont so this migrant must have a regular route through the area each year.

Banding provides great insight into the travels and habits of birds. The “furthest flier” record from Hilton Pond goes to a purple finch banded at the Center in February 2004. This bird met its untimely feline demise just two months later in Monastery, Nova Scotia, 1,275 air miles away. Sixty-two of the 121 species banded at Hilton Pond have been recaptured in later years, providing valuable information about longevity and site fidelity.

The mission of Hilton Pond is to conserve plants, animals, habitats, and other natural components of the Piedmont Region of the eastern United States through observation, scientific study, and education for students of all ages. The Center is established on an old farmstead and provides environmental education for school groups, college classes, organizations and individuals. Hilton Pond is designated as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society and by BirdLife International. The Center is open by appointment. To find out more about Hilton Pond and/or to schedule a visit please refer to the URL above or visit their site on Facebook.

 (Don Hendershot is a naturalist and a writer who lives in Haywood County. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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