Hilton, Jr. is
one of only 60 hummingbird researchers in the entire United States and
Canada with a permit to trap and band hummingbirds
a tiny bird — weighing less than two dimes but living and breathing,
with hollow bones and tiny body feathers — and putting a ring around
its microscopic leg! Bill Hilton Jr., doesn't have to imagine. He's done
this more than 2,500 times!
Bill says that bird banding is probably the single most valuable research
tool in studying birds. His
research has taught scientists a LOT about hummingbird migration. It has
proven that individual hummingbirds return to the same areas year after
year. His research has even given us information about how long hummingbirds
live. It all started with banding!
Hummingbirds. Bill captures his birds in delicate nets
in traps that are set up around a hummingbird feeder. When a
hummer goes to one of these feeders, Bill can pull a string and
a trapdoor closes. This traps the hummer inside. Bill must be
both fast and gentle in
the hummer out of the net or trap;
the weights and measurements he needs;
on its leg an official U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service band;
marking the bird with a necklace of harmless green dye.
a Hummer. Uniquely numbered hummingbird bands are engraved
on a thin aluminum sheet.
The bander cuts off the almost microscopic
piece of metal and forms it into a ring. To put the band on the
tiny bird's even tinier leg, he carefully places the bird in
a tube that holds its body firmly but gently. This is done in
the dark. Darkness makes the hummer less scared, which helps
the bander to do his work without hurting the bird.
by Bill Hilton Jr., courtesy of Operation
the Band to Size
the Hummer in a Tube
Green Dye? Bill puts green dye on the bird. The dye will disappear
when the hummingbird molts its throat feathers. Why does Bill
do this? He has two reasons:
can stay in the same area for days, weeks, or even months. Bill
doesn't want to retrap the same birds over and over; he
can keep data on these marked birds without needing to read the
dye helps people all over North America to recognize the birds
banded at or near the Hilton Pond Center.
In some cases people seeing the dye have alerted banders who
trapped the bird, recorded the band number, and notified the
Bird Banding Laboratory. This is how one of Bill's banded hummers
became the first hummingbird EVER to be retrapped more than
10 miles from where it was originally banded. Once
a while when a hummer crashes into a window or car and dies,
people who find it notice the band and report that. Bill
gets important information that way, too. But when he releases
each hummer, he hopes that it will live a long, healthy life.
He hopes that someday someone else will capture it alive—the
happiest way to learn about hummingbirds.
you've started your habitat, keep notes about the hummingbirds
that come. Whenever you see a hummingbird interact with another
hummer or with another animal, record the date and what you saw.
Share your observations with Journey North! And make sure you let
Bill and Operation RubyThroat know if you ever find a hummer
with a necklace of green dye!
up your own Hummingbird Habitat in your backyard or school
grounds. For suggestions on how to attract hummingbirds,
Journey North's Unpave
the Way for Hummingbirds and Operation RubyThroat's Attracting
RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project studies
the behavior and ecology of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. The
project is open to students and teachers in the U.S., Canada,
Mexico, and the seven countries of Central America.It is
an outreach activity of Hilton
Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History near York, South
Carolina. Bill Hilton, Jr. is the Center's executive director,
and the one who started
Operation RubyThroat. Like
Journey North participants, people involved in Operation RubyThroat
make observations about the timing of ruby-throat migration,
and many of them also install Schoolyard Hummingbird Habitats.