The Southeastern Raptor Center gives Auburn fans a unique chance to take home a piece of one of the most famous college game day traditions, the flight of the eagle.
The SRC is allowing Auburn fans to bid on the eagle’s jess and lure used in their pre-game flight. The proceeds from the auction support the operation of the raptor center and their mission of rehabilitation,
A jess is a leather cuff that is worn around the eagle’s legs and functions similarly to a leash and collar. It helps the handler securely hold onto and control the eagle. A lure is a circular pad and entices the eagle to its landing in midfield. It is essentially a target and the bird knows that every time it touches it, it gets a food reward.
The lures and jesses sold in the auction are unique. Prior to each the volunteers at the SRC come up with designs and hand- paint them onto the pieces. The lures and jesses are then stitched together by Andrew Hopkins, a raptor specialist at the SRC.
Robyn Miller, a volunteer at the SRC, has been designing and painting the lures for four seasons. She said the eagles themselves are her inspirations for her designs.
“I am positively enamored with raptors, and their strength and beauty is something that I hope to portray in my art,” Miller said. “Most of my designs feature portraits of Nova and Spirit that attempt to capture them as I see them.”
Getting the designs on the lures and jesses is a long, meticulous process. Multiple layers of paint and stamps or burning tools are used to make the designs come to life. The volunteers work on these designs for as many as 12 hours.
“I spend, on average, 12 or more hours working on the entire set,” Miller said. “Those 12 hours are primarily spent painting, with maybe only a handful of the hours dedicated to the decorative stamping or burning part of the process.”
The auction runs from 2:30 p.m. the Thursday before each game until 2:30 p.m. the Monday following the game. The beginning prices on the lures and jesses fluctuate, depending on whether it is an SEC game or not.
“Non-SEC games start at $250 dollars, and SEC games start at $500,” Hopkins said. “Then the auction just runs until time runs out and there is a winner.”
The auction has raised about $21,000 over the past three years. Their largest payout to date was the from the Kick Six game, which brought in about $12,600. This fundraising is crucial for the running of the program and was the motivation behind starting the auction.
“We spend about $70,000 on food alone each and every year,” Hopkins said. “Every little bit of fundraising we can do really helps us out.”
The auction had been in the works for a while, but it took the SRC some time to get approval. While it has been successful and has brought in a lot of funding for the SRC, there are currently only about five consistent bidders in the auction. They hope to continue to spread the word about this unique experience for Auburn fans to have their own piece of history.
“The idea has been passed around for years,” Hopkins said. “We knew that people would be interested in buying these one-of-a-kind items.”
Some other complications that have come with the auction have been getting the opposing schools to approve the design used on the lures and jesses.
“The lures have to be approved by both schools,” Hopkins said. “One year Alabama did not like that we had a Tiger eating an elephant and they would not let us sell that lure.”
The SRC is vital to Auburn’s famous game day tradition of the flight of the eagle. The SRC are solely responsible for caring for the University’s eagles, Nova, who is War Eagle VII and Spirit. They also conduct about 350 educational programs both at their local center and around the Southeast to educate the public about birds of prey.
The center has also taken in over 400 birds this year alone for treatment and rehabilitation. Some of these birds become permanent residents of the SRC.
The SRC’s goal for the future is to continue raising funds to continue their work and care for these precious birds so that Auburn can continue one of the most special college pre-game rituals, as well as to give fans a chance to obtain a precious piece of Auburn football history.