By Brandon Moseley
Auburn fans will get their last opportunity to see the bald eagle Spirit as she makes her final Jordan-Hare Stadium pregame flight Saturday. Spirit will make her final appearance, about 20 minutes before the start of the game. The kickoff with Mississippi State is at 11 a.m.
In recognition of her service and impending retirement, the Auburn University Board of Trustees passed a resolution naming Spirit as an Honorary War Eagle.
Spirit has flown alongside the school’s official golden eagles, designated War Eagles, for the last 20 years.
Andrew Hopkins is the assistant director of raptor training and education at Auburn’s Southeastern Raptor Center in the College of Veterinary Medicine.
“Spirit has been a great icon for Auburn and for wildlife conservation,” said Hopkins. “We appreciate the board honoring her among our great tradition of War Eagles.
“The game is Auburn’s military appreciation game, so it’s fitting we fly our bald eagle Spirit at the game that honors our veterans and current service members."
In July, the university announced the impending retirement of Spirit, who is 25 years old. The median life expectancy for bald eagles in captivity is 16.5 years.
“Spirit has been a great educational ambassador,” Hopkins added. “She has developed some arthritis, but that is typical for her age and, overall, she is in very good health.”
Given Spirit’s advanced age for the species, raptor center staff and veterinarians decided it would be best to retire her from stadium flights.
Spirit will also be honored at a special ceremony at halftime.
While she will never again make her awe-inspiring stadium flights, she will continue to make appearances during educational shows at the raptor center.
“Spirit has brought much attention to Auburn, the Southeastern Raptor Center and wildlife conservation,” said College of Veterinary Medicine Dean Calvin Johnson. “We are pleased she will continue to make an impact through appearances in educational presentations.”
Auburn fans will continue to enjoy bald eagle flights as a young bald eagle named Independence, or Indy, has started making pregame flights and has already appeared three times this season—along with Aurea, War Eagle VIII.
The mission of the Southeastern Raptor Center is not to entertain Auburn fans, though it does a good job of that as well. Its real mission is to rehabilitate and release injured and orphaned raptors, educate the public about these magnificent birds of prey and research raptor-related issues.
Spirit was found in Florida with an injured wing and beak in the late 1990s. She was brought to the raptor center for treatment and recovery. Due to her permanent beak damage, she was treated and found to be non-releasable. She joined several other disabled raptors as a permanent resident of the Center and soon began training for pregame festivities during home football games. She made her first Jordan-Hare flight on Sept. 28, 2002.
The center 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.
To learn more about Spirit and the other resident raptors go to www.auburnspirit.org
(This report is based on an original press release by Auburn University’s Charles Martin.)