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. Today, Spirit has become a major part of Auburn tradition and is as fondly recognized by Auburn fans as Aurea, War Eagle VIII.
…the only bald eagle to have flown as part of this nationally known Auburn tradition.
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. Soon she began training for pre-game festivities during home football games and made her first Jordan-Hare flight on September 28, 2002.
She has inspired Auburn fans during pre-game 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.
Spirit has served the Auburn family well for the last 18 years and it is time to let her enjoy retirement as an educational ambassador. 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.
Auburn fans will have an opportunity to see Spirit soar one last time…
Spirit is still in very good health, but due to the onset of arthritis — which is typical for an eagle her age — the intensity of stadium flight needs to be scaled back. She will continue to be very active in educational programming and will still participate in occasional training exercises.
A younger bald eagle resident named Independence will debut during pregame flights this fall at Jordan-Hare alongside Aurea. Independence, affectionately known as “Indy,” will take her first stadium flight and make Auburn history as only the second bald eagle to participate in pre-game 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, November 13. In addition to a halftime presentation honoring Spirit, there will be a special Football, Fans and Feathers event at the SRC on Friday, November 12, that will highlight both bald eagles, honoring the impact that they have had on the SRC and the entire Auburn family and wildlife conservation.
For almost two decades, Spirit 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.
More information about Spirit, Independence and their fellow resident raptors and upcoming raptor center events is available at vetmed.auburn.edu/raptor. 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.
Financial donations to support the educational and rehabilitative efforts of the Southeastern Raptor Center can be made online using the button above, adopting a raptor, or by contacting the college’s Office of Development at firstname.lastname@example.org or 334-844-1446.