SYCAMORE – A couple from Lee County called Oaken Acres Wildlife Center in January to report an injured bird of prey on their property, which they thought to be a young bald eagle.
When Oaken Acres staff arrived the next day, they discovered a young eagle, which the couple had named Freddie, in a field beneath several wind turbines. The bird lacked the strength to move and had a wing that almost completely was severed from its body.
Oaken Acres animal care director Carly Stadie said that because of the severity of the injury, the wing could not be repaired and had to be partially amputated.
Although Freddie will never fly again, his story now can be used to educate residents about the eagle population within the area and the threat of wind turbines to flying creatures.
“I’m thankful to the people who called it in, because the outlook did not look good for Freddie if we didn’t get him in quickly,” Stadie said.
The cause of Freddie’s injury appeared obvious to Oaken Acres staff members, and after a veterinarian familiar with wind turbine strikes looked at the eagle’s X-rays, he agreed that the broken wing was consistent with being hit by the blade of a turbine.
Oaken Acres executive director Kathy Stelford said Freddie had two surgeries – one to remove the infected wing at the wrist joint a month ago, and a second to fuse the bird’s radius and ulna together to strengthen and support it. The surgeries particularly were difficult because Freddie also was discovered to have a heart murmur, a condition that’s poorly understood when it occurs in wildlife.
Stelford said it’s hard to imagine what animals go through in terms of stress, especially since the eagle is at the top of the food chain.
“Many times, it might be our choice to euthanize a bird like that, but we just really felt like he deserved this chance to at least live out a life doing some good by educating people not just about wind farms, but about eagles and the comeback they’ve made in DeKalb County,” Stelford said. “We’re really excited and pleased we got him this far, because he was fighting a whole bunch of odds.”
Stelford said the issue of flying animals being killed by wind turbines is one that many wildlife and conservation officials find extremely difficult, maybe impossible, to reconcile with the advantages of alternative energy.
“I have written to all of our County Board members about my opposition to the new wind farm project before Freddie was injured, but his story has made it even more significant for me,” Stelford said. “Most birds that are struck by turbines do not survive.”
The DeKalb County Board recently approved a proposal to install two wind testing towers in the South Grove Township to gauge the conditions for potentially adding a wind farm in the area.
Stadie said traditional turbines have been problematic for birds, but there are innovative ways to make them more bird- and bat-friendly.
In California, where the threat of turbines hitting California condors is a concern, a sensor system that detects when a condor is in the area and shuts off the turbine has been used.
Stadie said Oaken Acres is looking to set up a fundraising page this week for Freddie’s expenses, which are estimated to be $3,000.
“We have gotten price cuts from vets, but they were very complex surgeries,” Stadie said. “Plus, he eats around 12 ounces of meat a day, which is expensive.”
She said that with Freddie’s lifespan being about 40 years and the expenses required to take care of him, it’s unclear whether Oaken Acres will keep him permanently.
For now, Freddie sits perched in an indoor cage at Oaken Acres. Stadie said the hope is to get him in an outside cage within the next two weeks.
“We’re not looking for anything permanent just yet,” Stadie said. “He is our first eagle, so that’s very exciting.”