While Mélanie Barboni was growing up in Switzerland, she wished for nothing more than to see some real, live hummingbirds. Her big break came in 2014, when she became a researcher in the Department of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
Knowing that the city was home to all sorts of hummingbirds, she attached a nectar-filled feeder to her office window and soon welcomed her first guest: an Allen’s hummingbird she named “Squeak.” Over the next few years, Barboni expanded her collection to four 80-ounce feeders to accommodate the 200 or so hummingbirds that came to rely on them. If the feeders weren’t full when the birds arrived for their next feast, they’d zoom right through the window to “yell at” Barboni. “They are so demanding, but they know I will give them everything,” she joked in a UCLA press release from 2016.
But the hummingbirds were clearly fond of her, sometimes resting on her finger or eating straight from her hand. Squeak made a habit of sleeping perched on Barboni’s computer monitor during chilly nights. And she returned the affection. In addition to making sure the birds were always sated—a significant responsibility, considering that hummingbirds must consume somewhere between eight and 10 times their body weight in nectar per day—Barboni named about 50 of them: Marshmallow, Stromboli, Milky Way, and so on.
As The Kids Should See This reports, her passion earned her the nickname “the hummingbird whisperer” around campus; some of her colleagues even installed hummingbird feeders outside their own office windows. To Barboni, hummingbirds are “Mother Nature’s best creation.” “I think she was trying to make one, tiny perfect jewel,” she explains in the video below, “and she got it perfectly right.”
Barboni left UCLA in spring 2018 to become an assistant professor at Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration. Though we don’t know if she’s established a thriving hummingbird hub at her new office, it seems safe to assume she’s at least tried—there are, after all, hummingbirds in Arizona.
[h/t The Kids Should See This]