Auburn University retiring bald eagle Spirit from pregame flights this fall

Final flight, halftime ceremony set for Nov. 13
Published: July 19, 2021
Font Size

Article body

This fall on the Plains will mark a special time for a beloved member of the Auburn Family as the university honors bald eagle Spirit upon her retirement from pregame flights.

When Spirit arrived at the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Southeastern Raptor Center in the late 1990s, no one knew she would one day come to represent the Auburn spirit alongside the university’s official golden eagles known as War Eagles.

“Spirit has become a major part of Auburn tradition and is as fondly recognized by Auburn fans as Aurea, War Eagle VIII,” said Andrew Hopkins, assistant director of raptor training and education.

Spirit was brought to Auburn after being discovered in Florida with an injured wing and beak. Due to her permanent beak damage, she was treated and found to be non-releasable. She soon began training for pregame festivities during home football games and made her first Jordan-Hare Stadium flight Sept. 28, 2002.

She has inspired Auburn fans during pregame festivities at 45 Auburn Tigers football games and is the only bald eagle to have flown as part of this nationally known Auburn tradition. In addition to her time spent supporting the Tigers, Spirit serves as a representative for wildlife conservation, having been part of more than 1,800 raptor center educational presentations to more than 105,000 attendees.

In 2021, Spirit is celebrating her 25th birthday and, since the median life expectancy for bald eagles in captivity is 16.5 years, raptor center staff and veterinarians decided it would be best to retire Spirit from stadium flights.

“Spirit has served the Auburn Family well for the last 18 years, and we feel it is time to pass the reigns and let her enjoy retirement as an educational ambassador,” Hopkins said. “She has developed some arthritis, but that is typical for her age and, overall, she is in very good health. As she retires, a younger bald eagle named Independence will debut during pregame flights this fall at Jordan-Hare alongside Aurea.”

When Independence, or “Indy,” takes her first stadium flight, she will make Auburn history as only the second bald eagle to participate in pregame festivities during home football games.

Auburn fans will have an opportunity to see Spirit soar one last time when she makes her final Jordan-Hare pregame flight at the military appreciation game when Auburn hosts Mississippi State on Saturday, Nov. 13. In addition to a halftime ceremony honoring Spirit, there will be a special Football, Fans and Feathers educational program at the raptor center Friday, Nov. 12, that will highlight both bald eagles, honoring the impact they have had on the Auburn Family and wildlife conservation.

“I know our fans will give Spirit a great send-off when she makes her final stadium flight this fall,” said College of Veterinary Medicine Dean Calvin Johnson. “For almost two decades, she has been an important part of Auburn tradition, and she has served as an ambassador to help thousands of people become better acquainted with her species. We all wish her well in her upcoming retirement and look forward to seeing her at educational presentations and visiting her at the Southeastern Raptor Center.”

The raptor center’s mission is to rehabilitate and release injured and orphaned raptors, educate the public about these magnificent birds of prey and research raptor-related issues. The center, a division of the College of Veterinary Medicine, is given permission by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to house, care for and showcase non-releasable birds of prey in its educational mission.

More information about Spirit, Independence and their fellow resident raptors and upcoming raptor center events is available at www.auburnspirit.org. Financial donations to help support the Southeastern Raptor Center can be made online or by contacting the college’s Office of Development at giving@vetmed.auburn.edu or 334-844-1446.

(Written by Mike Jernigan)

More Information

Help Support the Southeastern Raptor Center

To help support the Southeastern Raptor Center, you can give online, contact the college’s Office of Development at giving@vetmed.auburn.edu or call 334-844-1446.

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.