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Love birds? Put a ring on it | Under Rocks podcast

In a rural corner of northern Winnebago County, right up near the Wisconsin border, you can find one of the country’s most important bird research centers – and one of the most dedicated teams of volunteers you’ll ever meet. So as spring migration started ramping up, we sent our own dedicated team to investigate the Sand Bluff Bird Observatory and banding station.

Imagine you’re on a mission – It’s springtime and you need to get up north ASAP to grab the best breeding ground and score the choicest mate. You’re flying as fast as you can when WHAM! Out of nowhere, you hit this invisible web. You’re untangled, shoved in a bag, taken into some sort of lab, measured, poked, given a cute little bracelet, and BAM! Out the window, unharmed and back on your journey, all in less than an hour.


Congratulations, birdie: You’ve been banded!


It happens to thousands of birds each year at the Sand Bluff Bird Observatoryin Colored Sands Forest Preserve near Rockton, Illinois. And the research and record-keeping has been going on since its founding in 1967.


Dan Libman

We sent Dan Libman and Spencer Tritt with special guest/bird guide Connie Kuntz to Sand Bluff to see how it’s done…and maybe get the chance to feel the beating heart in the delicate chest of a migratory bird.


You can volunteer or just visit the bird banding operation: Just let them know you’re coming. Details are at sandbluff.org, as well as fun facts and bird banding records. Their Facebook page is also a treat for your bird-loving eyes.


Spencer Tritt

We’d like to thank Dan Libman and Spencer Tritt for another great adventure, the unstoppable Connie Kuntz for classing up the operation, and all the fantastic volunteers from Sand Bluff who put up with our antics while managing to do their work. Extra kudos to Bird banding Station Master Mike Eickman and Station founder/legend Lee Johnson. Susan Stephens is still drying her eyes after missing out on the trip due to a worthwhile scheduling conflict – but listening and editing hours of audio was almost as good as being there. Right?


Under Rocks is produced by WNIJ at Northern Illinois University. Point us toward our next adventure by dropping us some details at Rocks@niu.edu.

Susan is an award-winning reporter/writer at her favorite radio station. She's also WNIJ's Perspectives editor, Under Rocks contributor, and local host of All Things Considered.
Spencer's creativity shows up in a variety of spaces on-air and online for WNIJ. He graduated from Northern Illinois University with a degree in Communications and Digital Media Production. Spencer's interest in multimedia comes from a mix of his love for arts and music with an interest in technology.
Dan Libman is an author, teacher, correspondent, and adventurous host of the WNIJ podcast Under Rocks.