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York's Hilton among '50 Best Brains'

A York educator-naturalist is among "50 Best Brains in Science" according to the latest edition of Discover magazine.

"We conferred with leading academics and unleashed a team of crack researchers to seek out the best of the best" reports the cover story of the December 2008 issue, which named Bill Hilton Jr. of York as one of "the individuals making the most important contributions to American science.

Hilton is listed under the category of "10 Amateur Scientists Who Might Cure Cancer -- From Their Basements," which uncovers the "vital role of researchers who operate in non-traditional settings."

The magazine cites Hilton for his 26-year record of banding more than 52,000 wild birds at Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History, a non-profit education, research, and conservation organization he established in 1982 on family property in York. Hilton is an internationally recognized authority on hummingbirds and founder of "Operation Ruby Throat: The Hummingbird Project," through which he leads annual expeditions into Costa Rica for teachers and citizen scientists who help him study and band overwintering hummingbirds.

"I'm truly honored and humbled," Hilton said, "to be listed among famous professionals such as Stephen Hawking and E.O. Wilson. ... Amateur scientists always have and will continue to make significant contributions to our understanding of the natural world of which we humans are a part."

Hilton returned Saturday from a two-week expedition to El Salvador and Guatemala, where he became the first scientist to capture, band, and release Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in those countries.

"It's really amazing how tiny ruby-throats that breed in the Carolinas and across the eastern U.S. fly all the way to Central America in autumn and then come back to our very same yards the following spring," Hilton said. "My banding work in the tropics is important because it helps us understand hummingbird migration and the importance of protecting habitat on both ends of the migratory path."

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