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A spirit that is not afraid

'Football, Fans and Feathers' takes flight this Friday

<p>Contributed by Jon Cook of the Southeastern Raptor Center.</p>

Contributed by Jon Cook of the Southeastern Raptor Center.

The Southeastern Raptor Center at Auburn University — a division of the University's College of Veterinary Medicine — will once again host its annual “Football, Fans and Feathers” series during the 2021 football season. 

Intended to give audiences an opportunity to observe the birds up close, each event will demonstrate patterns of flight, survival skills and birds’ ecological role in our world.

Each Friday prior to a home football game, the center will perform a show with its birds of prey in the Edgar B. Carter Educational Amphitheater, located at 1350 Pratt-Carden Dr. off Shug Jordan Parkway.

"Our amphitheater opened around 2004 and I believe the show opened shortly after that," said Andrew Hopkins, assistant director of raptor training and education. 

Hopkins helps organize the event every year. Hopkins volunteered at the Raptor Center for five years before being hired in 2012 after graduating from Auburn in 2011 with a degree in zoology.

Hopkins said his role is to make sure the birds are ready for take-off by checking their routines, socialization and health to ensure they are prepared for the show. Additionally, he works with each of the volunteers to ensure safety and talks about the birds at the events.

At each “Football, Fans and Feathers” event, there will be a broad range of birds present, with an average of 10 raptors at each show. No two shows are alike. These include hawks, falcons and eagles. 

"I like the golden eagles the best," Hopkins said. 

The birds of prey will be free flown from towers within the amphitheater, with up-close viewing opportunities provided to the audience at the conclusion of each night. This allows the audience to engage with the trainers by asking them questions as well as by providing them with photo opportunities.

“I think it’s exciting to see the public be able to come to our facility and see these birds fly over right over their head and then get up close to them after the show,” Hopkins said. “I think that’s what most people really enjoy.”

There will be seven shows for each of the seven home games. Each hour-long show will begin at 4 p.m. on Sept. 3, 10 and 24; Oct. 8 and 29; and Nov. 12 and 26. There is an $8 entry fee, payable at the door or online at Children under age 3 will receive free admission.

Gates open an hour prior to each presentation. Seating will be available to attendees on a first-come, first-served basis. The amphitheater is an open-air facility and will not be providing concessions at any of the events. As such, attendees are also encouraged to bring personal lawn chairs, snacks and beverages.

While the amphitheater hosts 350 people comfortably, the event has seen turnouts as large as 1,500 people at past showings. With that in mind, Hopkins said he encourages people to arrive early to snag the best seating.

Every bird in the “Football, Fans and Feathers” show is a permanent resident at the Raptor Center. Each bird is non-releasable because of human imprinting or prior injuries. 

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