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Monday, Oct 2, 2023 | Latest Print Edition

Bald eagle Spirit to make last pregame flight this fall

<p>Spirit lands after a practice flight around Jordan-Hare Stadium on July 19, 2021, in Auburn, Ala.</p>

Spirit lands after a practice flight around Jordan-Hare Stadium on July 19, 2021, in Auburn, Ala.

CORRECTION: The previous photo on this article was of Independence, the bald eagle who will make her first stadium flight this fall, not Spirit. 

Spirit, the bald eagle who has excited Auburn football fans during pregame flights for nearly two decades, will make her final trip around Jordan-Hare Stadium on Nov. 13.

Spirit's retirement from pregame flights, announced in a press release from the University on Monday, comes after 45 flights during Auburn home football games since her first flight in 2002. Spirit will continue to serve as an educational ambassador for the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Southeastern Raptor Center, where she has been part of more than 1,800 educational presentations to more than 105,000 attendees.

Spirit, the only bald eagle to have flown alongside the University’s golden eagles in the traditional pregame flight, is celebrating her 25th birthday in 2021, which is 8.5 years older than the median life expectancy for bald eagles in captivity, according to the press release.

“Spirit has served the Auburn Family well for the last 18 years," said Andrew Hopkins, assistant director of raptor training and education. “She has developed some arthritis, but that is typical for her age and, overall, she is in very good health. As she retires, a younger bald eagle named Independence will debut during pregame flights this fall at Jordan-Hare alongside Aurea.”

Spirit will make her final stadium flight at the military appreciation game against Mississippi State on Nov. 13. In addition to a halftime ceremony honoring Spirit, there will be a special Football, Fans and Feathers educational program at the Southeastern Raptor Center on Friday, Nov. 12, that will highlight bald eagles Spirit and Independence, honoring the impact they have had on the Auburn Family and wildlife conservation.

Spirit first arrived at the Southeastern 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 then began training for pregame festivities during home football games and made her first stadium flight on Sept. 28, 2002.

“I know our fans will give Spirit a great send-off when she makes her final stadium flight this fall,” said College of Veterinary Medicine Dean Calvin Johnson. “For almost two decades, she 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.”

Evan Mealins | Editor-in-chief

Evan Mealins, senior in philosophy and economics, is the editor-in-chief of The Auburn Plainsman.


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