The Southeastern Raptor Center kicked off the football season with its first "Football, Fans and Feathers" event of the year Friday.
Friday's show consisted of raptor demonstrations by a red-tailed hawk, a black vulture, three species of owls and four species of falcons.
The show ended with a demonstration by War Eagle VII, the golden eagle affectionately known as Nova.
"Football, Fans and Feathers" takes place every Friday at 4 p.m. before home football games.
The event is sponsored by the education department of the Southeastern Raptor Center, a division of the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine.
"We're not open to the public like a zoo is," said Roy Crowe, eagle consultant education specialist at the Southeastern Raptor Center. "We just don't have the staff for that, and this is an opportunity for us to give the general public a chance to come and see the birds."
First-time visitors to the event, Jamie Donaldson and 2-year-old son, Luke, enjoyed the up-close-and-personal aspect of the show.
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"For him to actually be able to almost touch the birds is as close as you're ever going to get," Donaldson said. "I think it's a really good hands-on experience--it makes the kids interested, and it makes them want to learn more about birds."
The event was particularly exciting for the children.
"You get to see them up close, and they can fly over your head," said Kenley McCombs, 10. "I think that's really cool."
McCombs was introduced to the show by her friend Hannah Dyal, 9, a six-time veteran of the show who favors the screech owl demonstration.
"We love the show--they beg to come," said Hannah's mother, Cappy Dyal. "We bring family, we bring friends. We love it. The kids get excited about it. All I had to do was say the first game's Saturday."
After the raptor demonstrations, guests have an opportunity to visit with the birds, ask questions and take pictures.
According to Crowe, the show has evolved since its beginning four years ago.
"The quality of the program has greatly improved with the free flight," Crowe said. "When I first came here in 2000, the only bird that flew free was the eagle, and now in the fall, we'll fly eight or 10 or 12 birds free."
Crowe said the birds enjoy being a part of the show.
"They would like to go out there and kill a rabbit," Crowe said. "We don't let them do that, so this is the best part of their day. The later in the year it gets, the better the birds fly."
Most of the birds' handlers are Auburn student volunteers from wildlife, biology and zoology backgrounds, but any student is welcome to volunteer at the Raptor Center.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services owns all the birds in the show.
Auburn is permitted to keep and use the birds as long as they are for educational purposes.
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