The Hummingbird Whisperer: Meet the UCLA Scientist Who Has Befriended 200 Hummingbirds

Common wisdom, and indelible memories of The Birds, warn that feeding seagulls, pigeons and other creatures who travel in flocks is a can of worms best left unopened.

But what about hummingbirds?

Melanie Barboni is research geochemist in UCLA’s Department of Earth, Planetary and Space Sciences. Near the UCLA Court of Sciences she took a break from volcanos and the moon long enough to hang a feeder filled with sugar water outside her ground floor office window.




This complimentary buffet proved such a hit, she hung up more.

Two years later, Barboni is serving a colony of over 200 hummingbirds from four 80-ounce feeders. Their metabolism requires them to consume 8 to 10 times their body weight on a daily basis.

Barboni’s service to her tiny jewel-toned friends extends well beyond the feeders. She’s diverted campus tree trimmers from interfering with them during nesting season, and given public talks on the habitat-destroying effects of climate change. She’s collaborating with another professor and UCLA’s Chief Sustainability Officer Nurit Katz to establish a special garden on campus for hummingbirds and their fellow pollinators.

The intimacy of this relationship is something she’s dreamed of since her birdwatching childhood in Switzerland where the only hummingbirds available for her viewing were the ones in books. Her dream came true when a fellowship took her from Princeton to Los Angeles, where hummingbirds live year-round.

Some longtime favorites now perch on their benefactor’s hand while feeding, or even permit themselves to be held and stroked. A few like to hang out inside the office, where the warm glow of Barboni’s computer monitor is a comforting presence on inclement days.

She’s bestowed names on at least 50: Squeak, Stardust, Tiny, Shy…

(Show of hands from those who wish she’d named them all after noted geologists: Mary Anning, Eugene Merle ShoemakerCecilia Helena Payne-Gaposchkin...)

Get to know the UCLA hummingbirds better through Melanie Barboni’s up-close-and-personal documentary photos. Learn more about the species itself through the National Geographic documentary below.

via The Kids Should See This

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.


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