Operation RubyThroat
The GLOBE Program

On 15 March 2002, exciting new animal behavior protocols designed through Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project became available for worldwide use by schools participating in The GLOBE Program. The protocols were posted just in time for spring hummingbird migration!

GLOBE initially was a cooperative effort sponsored in the U.S. by NASA (National Aeronautic and Space Administration), NSF (National Science Foundation), and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), in partnership with more than 140 colleges and universities, K-12 schools, and non-government organizations. Internationally, GLOBE is a partnership between the U.S. and 95 other countries. In 2003, GLOBE was outsourced with NSF support to the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research & Colorado State University, but the goals of the organization so far are essentially unchanged--except that there is now a move to involve non-students in the program as "citizen scientists"

Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History in York, South Carolina--a conservation, education, and research organization that hosts Operation RubyThroat--has affiliated with GLOBE as a Science Partner, bringing to the program its 20-plus years of experience with hummingbird field research. Through this innovative partnership, hummingbirds become a "hook" to excite K-12 students (and adults) about science learning and environmental research. In the process, young people collect real data about hummingbirds and share their findings with peers and practicing scientists across the GLOBE network.

Participants at GLOBE-certified locations make scientifically valid observations about behavior and ecology of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) and submit them to the GLOBE Web site via on-line forms. Students in all countries where ruby-throats breed (U.S. & Canada) or overwinter (Mexico & Central America) also submit data about more traditional GLOBE protocols, including atmosphere/climate, hydrology, soils, land cover, and phenology. All this information can then be examined and graphed on-line for possible correlations, perhaps allowing students and cooperating scientists to see the impact of environmental factors on hummingbird activities.

Observers participating in Operation RubyThroat through GLOBE compile and submit data as part of one or more of these Ruby-throated Hummingbird (RTHU) activities:

  1. Observe the first spring sighting of RTHUs in U.S. & Canada (participants on RTHU wintering grounds in Mexico & Central America report the FINAL spring sighting)
  2. Make daily observations and record RTHU sightings during hummingbird migration and the breeding season in U.S. and Canada (participants in the tropics observe migration patterns plus non-breeding behavior in winter)
  3. Observe the final departure date in autumn of RTHUs in autumn in the U.S. & Canada (participants in the tropics report first arrival date in autumn)
  4. Count the number of RTHU visits to hummingbird feeders or to flowers over time, and/or compare bird feeder versus flower visits over time
  5. Count the number of RTHU visits to different flower species in a Schoolyard Hummingbird Habitat, home garden, flower box, and/or natural area over time
  6. Observe RTHU nesting behavior, including any adult male interaction at a nest (U.S. & Canada only)
  7. Report "unusual" hummingbirds such as color-marked RTHUs (above right), those with abnormal plumage (albinos, etc.), and/or vagrant hummingbirds of any species that are overwintering out of their normal range

Although most project participants make observations at K-12 campus-based hummingbird feeders or Schoolyard Hummingbird Habitats, many collect hummingbird data at home or at neighborhood sites on weekends or during the summer. Analysis of all these data brings a broader understanding of RTHU populations in North and Central America, and sightings of color-marked RTHUs help delineate the species' poorly understood migration patterns. In the case of winter observations of Rufous Hummingbirds, Black-chinned Hummingbirds, and other western or Mexican species (activity #7 above), students may help science understand possible causes of an apparent recent increase in the number of winter vagrant hummingbirds across the central and eastern U.S.

More than a million K-12 students in 10,000 schools have taken part in The GLOBE Program, supervised in field and classroom by more than 16,000 GLOBE-trained educators. Teachers and other adults who are not GLOBE-certified and wish to participate in GLOBE-related aspects of Operation RubyThroat are encouraged to attend a certification workshop at a local college, university, or other training site. Non-GLOBE-certified participants can download the protocol and data forms from the GLOBE Web site (see below) and submit observations directly to DATA.

Hilton Pond Center offers its sincere thanks to GLOBE's Dixon Butler (chief scientist), Mike Turpin, and Travis Andersen--and especially to Becky Boger--for their help in making the GLOBE/Operation RubyThroat collaboration a reality. We also acknowledge a 42-month grant from the National Science Foundation, which helps support the collaboration; special appreciation goes to NSF program officer Paul Filmer for his on-going assistance.

If you would like to schedule a four-hour GLOBE/Operation RubyThroat certification workshop for your school, school district, garden club, conservation organization, or other adult group, please contact us at EDUCATION.


Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History

Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project

The GLOBE Program

Ruby-throated Hummingbird documents (Introduction, Observation Protocols, and Data Forms) in PDF format are available for public download from GLOBE under PHENOLOGY. Using these documents, ANY young person or adult may submit hummingbird observations directly to Operation RubyThroat at DATA.

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Operation RubyThroat is a registered trademark of Bill Hilton Jr. and Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History in York, South Carolina USA, phone (803) 684-5852. Contents of the overall project and this website--including photos--may NOT be duplicated, modified, or used in any way except with the express written permission of the author. To obtain permission or for further assistance on accessing this website, contact Webmaster.