Two American white pelicans float along the Rock River on Friday, May 10, 2024, north of the Morgan Street bridge. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)
Rock River Current
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ROCKTON — American white pelicans have made their annual return to the region, and this weekend Rockton is the place to be for celebration and education about the migratory bird.

The large waterbirds, which can have wingspans of 9-feet, stop in the Rockford region each year on their way to spend summer in northern Wisconsin, Minnesota and Canada.

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You can typically find them for a few weeks fishing near the Morgan Street bridge in south Rockford, at Nygren Westland Preserve in Rockton or near the Oregon Dam on the Rock River in Oregon. They often float in circles atop the water as they group hunt for fish.

On Saturday, Rockton Pelican Fest coincides with World Migratory Bird Day for a celebration throughout the village’s downtown and other locations.

The Natural Land Institute, Sinnissippi Audubon Society, village of Rockton and JR Finally Art Studio & Gallery will host a day filled with activities on Saturday in and around downtown Rockton.

There’s an early bird hike and other wildlife-themed activities at Nygren Wetland Preserve, Hoo Haven will put on a presentation with its ambassador pelican at Village Hall, there’s an art show at JR Finally Art Studio and vendor booths and shopping in downtown.

See a rundown of some the activities below:

If you go | Rockton Pelican Fest

Here’s a look at events happening for Rockton Pelican Fest. Go HERE for maps and more information.

Nygren Wetland Preserve

Early bird hike: 7:30 a.m. Saturday, May 18

Wildlife education: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 18

Where: Nygren Wetland Preserve – Wildlife Overlook, 3714 W. Rockton Road, Rockton

Hoo Haven open house

When: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday

Where: Village Hall, 110 E. Main St., Rockton

Talcott Free Library activities

  • 10:30 .a.m: World Bird Migratory Day and Peregrine Falcons – Sinnissippi Audubon Society, Jennifer Kuroda
  • 12:30 p.m.: Trash Talk: Recycling – Keep Northern Illinois Beautiful, Corinne Sosso
  • 1:30 p.m.: Life in Art: Using Pelicans to Study Dinosaurs – Burpee Museum of Natural History, Ryan Dewey
  • 2:15 p.m.: Creating a Pollinator Friendly Garden & Conservation at Home – Natural Land Institute, Kim Johnsen

Where: Talcott Free Library, 101 E. Main St., Rockton

Shop downtown

Stroll the shops and restaurants, see booths at the corner of  West Main and North Prairie streets and in the 200 block of West Main Street. Collect 22 bird cards and enter them to win a Lego Icon Kingfisher.

From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. participate in sidewalk chalk art with Melinda Cook.

JR Finally Art Studio

What: See art shows and demonstration by Rockford Art Guild and Whitman Post Elementary School. There is also a wood carving demo by Don Hyson, watercolor demo by Jean Apgar and you can enter a drawing to win a pelican watercolor painting by Apgar.

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 11

Where: JR Finally Art Studio & Gallery, 210 W. Main St., Rockton

A squadron of pelicans floats on Friday, May 10, 2024, on the Rock River near the Morgan Street bridge. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)

This article is by Kevin Haas. Email him at or follow him on X at @KevinMHaas or Instagram @thekevinhaas and Threads @thekevinhaas

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