Good news is rising from the ashes of tragedy after last week's fatal plane crash in Sugar Grove.
A hawk, badly burned, seems to be making an amazing recovery.
"When I saw the bird, I was shocked," said Dawn Keller, executive director of the Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, who has treated more than 200 injured birds. "This was nothing like I've ever seen. It had to have been engulfed."
Kane County sheriff's deputies found the bird walking around near the crash of the twin-engine plane off Route 47 and called the Kane County Animal Control office. Officials there managed to capture the bird and called the private, nonprofit Flint Creek center.
Keller took the bird to Flint Creek's Barrington treatment site. It operates another in Itasca, and a triage site on Northerly Island in Chicago. The bird - now called Phoenix - was burned so much Keller isn't sure of its species or sex.
"Basically, we believe, based on its size, that it is a female red-tailed hawk," the most common hawk in the area, Keller said.
Phoenix weighs a little more than 3 pounds.
She thinks, given it was nighttime, the bird was sleeping in a tree near the crash and got caught in the fireball that witnesses reported seeing.
The injuries are quite severe. Phoenix has no feathers left, except for her protective underdown. The contour, flight, primary and secondary feathers all burned away, leaving charred 4- to 5-inch shafts. Those shafts splintered off as rescuers handled her.
The skin on her feet was burned and started sloughing off on the ride to the center. Other patches of exposed skin received second-degree burns. There were burns in her mouth and trachea, so Flint Creek staff members gave her anti-inflammatory medicine to avert swelling. They debrided Phoenix' burned skin and spread antibiotics on it, bandaged her feet, gave her fluids, and dosed her with pain medication.
"She has pulled through it miraculously," Keller said.
Phoenix is being kept in an incubator to maintain her body temperature until her feathers grow back. The staff believes her feather follicles were undamaged. Red-tailed hawks normally molt their feathers about once a year anyway.
However, the staff is concerned about her eyelids. A veterinary ophthalmologist checked her eyes, which are fine, but her outer eyelids were burned. If the outer skin on them have to be removed, it won't be safe for her to be released in the wild. Instead, she will become an educational bird, teaching schoolchildren and others about birds of prey.
Monday, she ate solid food: boneless quail breast, grabbing it from tweezers. They aren't giving her any bones or feathers, which the birds normally also eat, because of the burns to her trachea. Despite the burns to her feet, she is walking.
Birds of prey are not pets. With their fierce attitudes and sharp talons, they can be dangerous. At first, when she was in shock, Phoenix did fuss at the volunteers removing the damaged skin from her feet. But once her pain was relieved, she calmed down, Keller said.
"I think she knows we're helping her," she said, associating the human contact with feeling better. "This bird could make a full recovery."
There are animals the center can't save, and to be humane, it puts them down. But a quick assessment of Phoenix Saturday convinced Keller that wasn't necessary.
"It's never what we do when the bird can survive," Keller said. "She has shown incredible will to live. She's a fighter."
What to do about injured wildlife
There are public and private agencies throughout the suburbs that take care of injured wildlife. There are also individuals licensed by the state and federal governments to rehabilitate animals, reptiles and birds.
Information on injured wildlife, including a list of rehabilitators, can be found at: web.extension.uiuc.edu/wildlife/injured.cfm
Wildlife rehabilitation centers
• Barrington and Itasca: Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation, flintcreekwildlife.org, (847) 602-0628
• Glen Ellyn: Willowbrook Wildlife Center, willowbrookwildlife.com, (630) 942-6200
• Kane County: Kane Area Rehabilitation and Education of Wildlife, (630) 377-1895
• Kane County: Fox Valley Wildlife Center, foxvalleywildlife.org, (630) 365-3800
• Naperville: Save Our American Raptors, soar-inc.org, (630) 416-9565
• River Forest: Hal Tyrell Trailside Museum, fpdcc.com, (708) 366-3650
• Wauconda: Barnswallow, barnswallow.net, (847) 487-3606