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Winter visitors: Rare hummingbirds take refuge with Dawson County family
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The Rufous Hummingbird is one of two rare hummingbirds to have migrated to Dawson County for the winter months. Photos courtesy of Georgann Schmalz.

Two rare hummingbirds have made their way to Dawson County for the cold winter months, and have been attracting visitors from all over to see them. 

According to Dawson County homeowner Abby Liberatore, her husband Mike noticed the first of two rare hummingbirds back in November. 

“Mike texted me on Nov. 30 and said ‘call me crazy but I think I just saw a hummingbird’,” Liberatore said. “And I said ‘Mike they’re gone, there’s no hummingbirds’ but sure enough we kept watching and it was.” 

Liberatore called her neighbor Georgann Schmalz, a local ornithologist with years of experience in birding, to help identify the hummingbird. Schmalz identified the hummingbird to be most likely a female Rufous Hummingbird, one of only a handful reported in the state of Georgia. 

Schmalz posted photos of the hummingbird, which Liberatore nicknamed “Ruffie” online, and bird watchers began coming out to Liberatore’s house to see the bird. But according to Liberatore, they had no idea they were in for another surprise. 

This story continues below. 

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The Rufous Hummingbird, nicknamed “Ruffie” by local residents, is a young female bird and one of only five or six of its kind reported in the state of Georgia. Photos courtesy of Georgann Schmalz.

Schmalz posted photos of the hummingbird, which Liberatore nicknamed “Ruffie” online, and bird watchers began coming out to Liberatore’s house to see the bird. But according to Liberatore, they had no idea they were in for another surprise. 

“There was a bunch of people out looking at Ruffie and we were all standing out in the street and Georgann zoomed in on the bird and said ‘that’s not the same bird’,” Liberatore said. “And sure enough, that was the first sighting of Callie.” 

The second bird, which Liberatore nicknamed “Callie”, is a Calliope Hummingbird, which is even more rare in Georgia than the Rufous. 

According to Schmalz, the Calliope is a young male bird and is one of only three reported in the state. 

“Normally they spend the winter in Mexico, but for the last 10 to 20 years we’ve noticed these birds are coming to the southeastern United States,” Schmalz said. “There’s three of them reported in this state: this one, one near Athens and one near Thomasville.” 

Thanks to Liberatore’s hummingbird feeders and Schmalz sharing the birds’ locations and photos online, the two birds have gained quite a following online and have drawn bird watchers from all over the state to see them. 


“There’s been people coming out to see them because everybody wants to get 700 birds on their life list or have the chance to see 700 different birds,” Schmalz said. “So people came to see them in December to put the hummingbirds on their 2020 lists and now they’re coming back again to put them on their 2021 list.” 

According to Liberatore, the Rufous hummingbird stays mostly at the feeders in her front yard, while the Calliope hummingbird has decided to stay mainly at the feeder in the back. Schmalz said that the main thing that helps the birds decide where to stay over the winter is a stable food supply.

“It’s a combination of more feeders out in the winter so we notice them, or they just suddenly have increased coming here for the winter,” Schmalz said. “60 percent of what they eat are small insects, so if the food supply is stable enough between flowers, feeders and insects they’re okay.” 

Liberatore said that the most important thing she’s learned from having the birds at her house is that hummingbirds aren’t just summer birds in Georgia. 

“The general public associates hummingbirds with warm weather and how we get the ruby-throats that are here during the summer and leave when it gets cold.” Liberatore said. “But don’t take your feeders in right away; leave them out.” 

Liberatore says that she and her family have felt lucky that not one but two rare hummingbirds have chosen their house to spend the winter at. 

“It’s just really cool that we have both of these rare hummingbirds here in Dawsonville and that they’re both at the same house,” Liberatore said. 

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