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

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Cor­nell Launch­es Archive of 150,000 Bird Calls and Ani­mal Sounds, with Record­ings Going Back to 1929

Google Uses Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence to Map Thou­sands of Bird Sounds Into an Inter­ac­tive Visu­al­iza­tion

Free Enter­tain­ment for Cats and Dogs: Videos of Birds, Squir­rels & Oth­er Thrills

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

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