Oaken Acres moves forward with plans to construct eagle rehab cage

SYCAMORE – When a local wildlife problem is brought to the attention of the staff at Oaken Acres Wildlife Center, staff try to find a solution, founder Kathy Stelford said.

Two years ago, a fledgling eaglet was found injured near Kirkland. When rescuers called Oaken Acres for help, they were referred to another center near Rockford, because Oaken Acres doesn’t have a permit to rehabilitate eagles.

“Realizing that eventually we’d get another call like this, I was determined to get the necessary permits for Oaken Acres,” Stelford said.

Oaken Acres is licensed by the U.S. Federal Fish and Wildlife Service and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to care for almost any native wild animal. Special permits are required for deer, birds of prey, endangered and threatened species and bald eagles. Oaken Acres has all of these permits except the one for eagles. The main barrier to getting this permit is a cage – Oaken Acres has several flight enclosures but none that meets the requirements for eagles.

“Eagles need a huge cage,” Stelford said. “The minimum requirements are 100 feet long, 24 feet wide and 16 feet high, and we didn’t have anything close to that size.”

For the past year, Oaken Acres has been raising funds to build an eagle cage. DeKalb architect Don Whitmore donated his time to explore options and produce the necessary drawings and materials list for construction, and ComEd’s Rockford branch donated $5,000.

Oaken Acres has raised more than $40,000 for the new flight pen, and director of operations Christy Gerbitz has taken the drawings and materials to local lumberyards for bids, hoping to get a discount on materials. The plans have also been let to bid to several contractors, as the project is too large for Oaken Acres’ volunteers.

“We may still be short on money depending on what comes up with the bids, and then there’s always the unexpected,” Stelford said. “We’re still accepting donations towards this monumental project and anyone who donates more than $250 will have their name on the cage.”

A ceremonial groundbreaking was held at a donor open house recently. Children from the Unitarian Universalist Federation of DeKalb joined in the groundbreaking dressed as eagles.

“What you do is a great honor to nature and our animal friends,” UUFD director of religious education Gladys Sanchez said. She promised to continue to share the Oaken Acres message of “every life matters” with her students.

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