Researcher Melanie Barboni studies geology for a living, but as a side gig, she is known as The Hummingbird Whisperer
"They are just so cute, and so smart! They remember you. They get to know you, and then they interact with you," said Barboni, who talks to the birds that sometimes fly into her office and recognizes at least 50 by names she has given them. Some of the bolder hummingbirds even allow her to hold them, stroke their feathers and see their nests. Her affection for the birds has captivated her colleagues in the Department of Earth, Planetary and Space Sciences; they have helped create an unofficial "Hummingbird Alley" by putting out other feeders.
As a bird enthusiast growing up in Switzerland, she had always admired these colorful creatures from afar — but in books. She believed them to be magical fairies because they were so elusive and so beautiful.
"My dearest dream as a child was to see hummingbirds," recalled Barboni in a departmental newsletter. "Imagine my joy when I found out that my next job assignment would bring me to Los Angeles, where hummingbirds live year-round."