AUBURN – Auburn University’s bald eagle Spirit has flown alongside the school’s official golden eagles — designated War Eagles — since her first stadium flight in 2002. In recognition of her service and impending retirement, the university’s Board of Trustees passed a resolution Friday naming Spirit an Honorary War Eagle.
“Spirit has been a great icon for Auburn and for wildlife conservation,” said Andrew Hopkins, assistant director of raptor training and education at Auburn’s Southeastern Raptor Center in the College of Veterinary Medicine. “We appreciate the board honoring her among our great tradition of War Eagles.”
Fans will have an opportunity to see Spirit soar one last time as she makes her final Jordan-Hare Stadium pregame flight when Auburn hosts Mississippi State at 11 a.m. Saturday. The flight will occur approximately 20 minutes before kickoff, and she will be honored during a halftime ceremony.
“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,” Hopkins said.
In July, the university announced the retirement of 25-year-old Spirit. The median life expectancy for bald eagles in captivity is 16.5 years, so raptor center staff and veterinarians decided it would be best to retire her from stadium flights. However, she will continue to make appearances during educational shows at the raptor center.
“Spirit has been a great educational ambassador,” Hopkins said. “She has developed some arthritis, but that is typical for her age, and overall, she is in very good health.”
Spirit was brought to the raptor center in the late 1990s 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 flight Sept. 28, 2002.
She has inspired Auburn fans during pregame festivities at 46 Auburn Tigers football games. 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.
As she retires, a young bald eagle named Independence, or Indy, has started making pregame flights — appearing three times this season — along with Aurea, War Eagle VIII.
“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.”
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 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 and other resident raptors 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 Advancement office at firstname.lastname@example.org or 334-844-1446.