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A Pod of Pelicans | Under Rocks podcast

So you've spotted a flock of huge white birds with comically-large beaks riding the Rock River surf. They couldn't possibly be pelicans, could they? They're far too exotic for the Midwest. Right?


WNIJ's Under Rocks team heads out in search of the American White Pelican — and finds a festival devoted to these spring-time visitors along the way.

Email us your story ideas at rocks@niu.edu!

Good Pelican Pic 3.jpg
Dan Libman
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What’s white and black and moving through northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin this time of year? Pelicans, of course. Specifically, the American White Pelican. These massive birds rest and hunt along the Rock River on their way to their northern breeding grounds. We sent Under Rocks host Dan Libman to the banks of the mighty Rock River in Oregon, a pelican hotspot where he met up with other fans of Pelecanus erythrorhynchos.

Other great places to find them in northern Illinois? The Rock River is a good bet. Try the Fordham Dam in Rockford and the north side of the Morgan Street Bridge, also in Rockford.

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There's also Nygren Wetland Preserve in Rockton, which is also one of the sites for the village's annual Pelican Festival. Its second year takes place May 21, 2022 from 10 to 3, at locations all over downtown Rockton (and there's a mascot this year!). There's an early bird guided hike at Nygren, starting at 7:30 a.m. Thanks to Kimberly Johnsen from the Natural Land Institute and Jennifer Kuroda, president of Sinnissippi Audubon. They helped organize Pelican Fest and shared their plans and pelican fun facts with us for this podcast.

You'll also get expert information about pelicans in Illinois from Jeff Horn, district wildlife biologist for Jo Daviess, Stephenson, Winnebago, Boone and Ogle counties, and temporarily in Carroll County, for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

And who were all those fun folks hanging out with Dan on the banks of the mighty Rock? Leo Kingery, Gabe Poser, Dom Cozzi, Eric Kingery, Melanie Cozzi, Sam Shea, and Mike the Fisherman. Thanks for playing along, all!

And keep us in mind when you encounter something odd and interesting when you are out and about in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. Drop us an email at rocks@niu.edu.

Under Rocks is produced by WNIJ at Northern Illinois University.