Gladys Hix Schaum Cole, a former Towson resident whose study and banding of migratory birds brought her national acclaim, died Sept. 11 of cancer at the Manor Nursing Home in Seneca, S.C., where she had lived for the past two years. She was 86.
Mrs. Cole didn't enter the field of bird banding until she was 45, after working for years as a school nurse at McDonogh School and managing her husband's Overlea real estate company. But she was a licensed volunteer bander until three years ago.
She ran a banding station in the back yard of her Towson home on Valley Lane and for nearly 20 years, until it closed in 1968, oversaw the operation of the volunteer-staffed Maryland Ornithological Society station in Ocean City.
Working out of tents in what were then scrub pinewoods north of Ocean City, Mrs. Cole examined migrating birds caught in stretchy, filmy, black nylon nets called Japanese Mists that measured 40 feet long and 6 feet high. Into the nets had swooped birds anxious for a meal of wax myrtle, wild grapes or swamp berries.
"Some days she'd examine 1,000 birds on their way from Canadian breeding grounds to Mexico and South America," said Chandler S. Robbins, senior ornithologist at the Patuxent Wildlife Center for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and longtime friend. "Only hurricanes would interrupt her work, and then she was always anxious to get back to see what birds the wind had blown into the nets from distant places.
"She'd spend two whole months working there from before sunrise to after midnight carefully examining and identifying birds and their plumage to determine age, body fat, sex and diseases, in addition to banding them."
Working together at the coastal station in the 1960s, Mr. Chandler and Mrs. Cole got a chance to record rare visits to Maryland of the rufous hummingbird, the western wood peewee, a bird normally found in the Rocky Mountains, and the painted bunting.
"She was nationally recognized for her incredible knowledge of the birds of Maryland, and her work was highly respected," said Joy Wheeler, a friend and Maryland Ornithological Society board member.
"It's fun out here in the open," Mrs. Cole said of her work in an interview in 1969. "We think we're so intelligent, yet a ruby-crowned kinglet I band here may make its way for the first time to Texas."
Born Gladys Hix in Seneca, she attended schools there and was a 1930 graduate of the University of Maryland School of Nursing.
She and Gordon Schaum married in 1931. He died in 1945. In the late 1950s, she married Richard D. Cole, who died several years ago. A memorial service for Mrs. Cole is planned for 5 p.m. Oct. 1 at Calvary Baptist Church, 120 W. Pennsylvania Ave., Towson.
She is survived by a son, Leslie Schaum of Atlanta; two brothers, Frank Hix of Westminster, S.C., and Mike Hix of Seneca; two sisters, Polly Perry of Seneca, and Cherry Ann Whitt of Easley,