15th Annual BirdFest set for May 11-12 in Shirland, Ill.

Colored Sands Forest Preserve’s Sand Bluff Bird Observatory to play host to event, which runs 8 a.m.-4 p.m. both days

Staff Report

SHIRLAND, Ill. — Hundreds of wild birds migrating through the area are just an arm’s length away at BirdFest 2013, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, May 11-12.

BirdFest is hosted by Illinois’ largest bird observatory — Sand Bluff Bird Observatory (SBBO) — in Colored Sands Forest Preserve, 4 miles northwest of Shirland, Ill. SBBO is one of the largest banding stations in the region that welcomes visitors.

Get a firsthand view of a variety of birds, such as bluebirds, scarlet tanagers and Baltimore orioles.

BirdFest is held during peak migration when thousands of birds return from their homes as far south as Argentina to summer here or continue farther north to Canada and Alaska.

To commemorate the organization’s 15th anniversary, research scientist Dr. Mike Ward, Illinois Natural History Survey and assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will present “Tracking Birds Migrating Across the Gulf of Mexico.” Dr. Ward is the co-author of a study that tracks Illinois’ avian population over 100 years and identifies the factors impacting the declines of certain species.

BirdFest is a wonderful opportunity to spend time outdoors and learn about nature,” said Mike Eickman, president of the all-volunteer organization. “Visitors who hold and release the banded birds are often amazed by their size, colors and markings. With extensive experience in studying and researching birds, the SBBO staff devote their free time to sharing this passion with others.”

Visitors are welcome to shadow certified net checkers and watch as they gently remove birds safely captured in the mist nets and then brought to the observatory for identification. At the observatory, visitors will see master banders evaluate and band each bird. Experts will share interesting facts about the birds — what they eat; where they nest; the distances they travel — and will answer questions. Guests will have an opportunity to examine the birds before the birds are set free.

SBBO’s annual spring celebration offers a host of family fun activities, including bird-banding demonstrations; special presentations, including Dr. Ward; guided nature hikes; free Kids’ Korner with activities, including birdhouse kits, owl pellets, games and face painting; raptor shows; how-to nature exhibits, such as butterfly gardens; wood crafters and other nature artists; silent auction with a specially-designed “Bird-in-Hand” quilt, and wildlife and nature items; and food stand featuring breakfast and lunch menus.

Admission is $3 for adults; 50 cents for children ages 4-12; and free for 3 and younger. Money collected at BirdFest goes toward purchasing new nets and equipment.

The event takes place rain or shine, as the birds continue to be active in a light drizzle. SBBO is at 10602 Haas Road, 4 miles northwest of Shirland, Ill. Follow signs on Yale Bridge Road. For more information, go to sandbluff.org or call Mike at (815) 871-8483.

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