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Wildlife center prepares for ‘baby season’

Published: Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
(Kyle Bursaw – kbursaw@shawmedia.com)
Christy Gerbitz, Oaken Acres director of operations, interacts with a screech owl with vision problems during her morning routine of distributing food to the animals Wednesday.

SYCAMORE – For Oaken Acres Wildlife Center founder and President Kathy Stelford and her staff, spring is a time for several hundred new beginnings.

Also known as “baby season” at Oaken Acres, 12140 Aldrich Road outside Sycamore, spring is the busiest time of year at the center. Several baby squirrels, raccoons and birds are just some of the animals Oaken Acres fosters during this time.

“They’re a challenge,” said Stelford, who founded the wildlife center in 1984. “But boy, does it feel good when you take one that came in at two inches, and 14 to 18 weeks later you’re watching it climb a tree.”

Christy Gerbitz, director of operations at Oaken Acres, said the center manages between 400 and 500 animals at a time. She said 80 to 90 percent of those animals come in the spring, especially the little ones.

“The babies are vulnerable and a little more easily captured than an adult wild animal,” she said.

Although they are most often in need of rescue, babies are not the only types of animals for which the center provides care. Oaken Acres is home to many animals who need assistance, one of which is Frosty, the snowy owl rescued in November from the streets of DeKalb.

Gerbitz said Frosty was still recovering from a beak injury he likely suffered flying into a window or a car. The owl still can’t feed himself, which is one of the jobs Gerbitz handles. Although he is doing well, she said the entire healing process could take at least another year.

“We’re in this for the long haul,” she said.

Stelford said she would like Frosty to become an educational bird for the center. But to make that happen, he needs a specially designed climate-controlled cage, among other supplies and equipment.

Oaken Acres will host its first “Babies Gone Wild” fundraiser to raise money for these supplies and other expenses. Stelford said the fundraiser is also an excellent opportunity for the community to learn more about Oaken Acres and the work it does.

“Oaken Acres is a very valuable resource for our community,” she said. “We take every life that comes to us very seriously.”

Although Stelford said caring for the animals is a round-the-clock job, she said the end result is worth all the hard work and energy.

“It’s really amazing to watch how quickly they grow and the beautiful little animals they turn into,” she said.

For those who would like to experience this process firsthand, Oaken Acres is now seeking volunteers. Interested applicants can visit www.oakenacres.org for more information.

'Babies Gone Wild' fundraiser

When: 6 to 9 p.m. March 2 Where: Blumen Gardens, 403 Edward St., Sycamore Tickets $20 (must be ordered by Feb. 15)

To order tickets: Call: 815-762-3532 Email: lisa@oakenacres.org Online: at www.oakenacres.org, go to DONATE (specify "TICKETS" on review page) Mail check to 119 E. Alden Place, DeKalb, IL 60115

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