Avian Expert Articles

Hummingbirds Inspire

hummingbirds eating from feeder

We are all already cognizant of the fact that some people are tuned in to the wavelength of a bird. There just seems to be an attraction that cannot be explained (nor do we want to explain it). It’s a wonder to be able to communicate in some mysterious way with birds. That’s why exotic birds are so high up on the list of favored creatures when it comes to befriending one. But sometimes, that wavelength even extends out to the world of the wild bird, the bird that cannot be housed inside a cage.

Consider the hummingbird. And then consider the connection of hummingbirds to an assistant researcher who works within UCLA in its Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences Department. That would be Dr. Mélanie Barboni, whose connection with hummingbirds is a passionate one.

Upon her arrival to UCLA as a postdoctoral research fellow, Mélanie placed a hummingbird feeder outside her window. Shortly, she was greeted by her first hummingbird. Over time, the research assistant found the population of thankful hummingbirds growing, where it now stands at around 200 or more. During the three years of attending to the hummingbirds outside her office, she has increased the feeders to four. The birds are so aware of her presence that they are completely unafraid of her. They will even land on her hand if she puts it outside the window.

Her familiarity with the hummingbirds extends even further with a large group of recognizable individual birds. She has given some of them names. The birds are so comfortable with Mélanie that they easily fly within the window to perch near her as she works, often resting and sleeping inside. Around the campus, Mélanie is often referred to as “the hummingbird whisperer” for her abilities to effortlessly bond closely with them.

Tips For Wild Hummingbird Care

In a brief e-mail exchange with Mélanie, she asked that we add to this article the importance of how and what you feed hummingbirds in your own backyard explorations. In her own words:

“Food: The nectar recipe should be 1 part white granulated sugar for 4 parts boiled water. No honey, no brown sugar, no worm blood or any other proteins (the hummers get their proteins by chasing bugs). It is important to use white granulated sugar only. That recipe reproduces very well what they find in flowers. If you use brown sugar or anything else, those contain elements their metabolism cannot process and that will hurt them (especially considering they drink up to 8 times their body weight in nectar per day). NEVER use the red-dyed nectar that you can buy in the stores. This actually hurts the birds badly as it contains traces of metals that they cannot process. Rehabbers around the country and other people studying hummingbirds have been trying to prevent the production of that red-dyed nectar, but unfortunately without success.  I have seen firsthand the damage it does to the hummingbirds, and it is really awful.  Also, those are expensive, so I like telling people that mixing their own nectar is not only the only way to properly feed the hummers, but also the friendliest way for their wallet.

“Feeder maintenance: Once the nectar is mixed, it can be stored up to 2 weeks in the fridge. I advise to select a feeder that is easy to take apart and clean. Once in the feeder, nectar has to be changed daily if temperature is above 80° F of if the feeder is in direct sun and/or the humidity is very high. Otherwise it needs to be changed every 2-3 days. If the nectar looks cloudy, it has to be changed immediately. Nectar turns bad quickly, and when it does, it will be poison for the birds. Every time the nectar is changed, the feeder needs to be taken apart and cleaned with hot water. I recommend using brushes too (including little ones that fit inside the ports. They are easy to find in stores or online). Every month (or as soon as black mold spots appears), the feeder needs to be cleaned in a 1-part bleach/ 9-parts hot water solution to kill any bacteria. I usually let it soak 20 minutes within the solution, then rinsing a lot until it doesn’t smell like bleach anymore.  Similar to bad nectar, dirty feeders will also kill birds (and in a very painful way), so hygiene has to be perfect.

“It might sound like a lot, but it is actually only 10 minutes a day on average to properly care for the hummingbirds. The reward of having them around — heathy and happy — is so worth it!”

If you have hummingbird feeders in your yard, please consider Mélanie’s expert advice on feeding them. Her recipe is a healthful one.

Helping Hummingbirds

Mélanie is also involved with hummingbird rehabbers. Essentially, rehabbers take care of injured or sick hummingbirds. They also help babies that have been orphaned for whatever reasons. With a planned move to another state, Mélanie is planning to take a permit (as one is needed) test when she has settled. She finds great joy in helping the hummingbirds become healthy to pursue their life’s course. And while sometimes not all birds can be saved, it is a beautiful thing to be able to save the ones that can be saved. It makes everything worth it.

Dr. Mélanie Barboni is part of the UCLA team that has determined that our moon’s age is far older than we previously thought. She is also involved in many levels of earth science. It can be easily understood that Mélanie has a great appreciation of all things belonging to our great, vast universe of things, including the Earth’s beautiful hummingbird inhabitants.

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