Auburn Eagle ‘Spirit’, Other Raptors Visit Ernest Ward Middle (With Photo Gallery)

March 23, 2024

Friday morning, bald eagle Spirit visited Ernest Ward Middle School — home of the Golden Eagle mascot.

Spirit was the pre-game flight eagle at Jordan-Hare Stadium at Auburn University for nearly 20 years.

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.

For a photo gallery, click or tap here.

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. She soon began training for pregame festivities during home football games and made her first Jordan-Hare Stadium flight September 28, 2002.

She inspired Auburn fans during pregame 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 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.

Now in retirement, Spirit is part of education presentations by Auburn’s Southeastern Raptor Center. Somewhat contrary to her imposing appearance, Spirit with her six-foot wingspan weighs in at only about seven pounds, and most of that is feathers, not body weight.

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.

Spirit was the star of the show Friday morning at the Raptor Center visited Ernest Ward Middle in program sponsored by United Bank. Students were able to see several other species of raptors, including a screech owl, barn owl, American kestrel hawk, a vulture and a small one-eyed red tailed hawk named Stump (who was found along the roadside looking like a stump after an apparent injury).

EMWS students had chance to ask question to learn more, including the secret of how exactly a bald eagle is trained to return to a handler in a crowded Jordan-Hare Stadium. Turns out it’s all about positive reinforcement — a tasty food treat is the motivating factor for returning to a leather circle. A touchdown on the leather circle is celebrated with food.

For a photo gallery, click or tap here. photos, click to enlarge.


3 Responses to “Auburn Eagle ‘Spirit’, Other Raptors Visit Ernest Ward Middle (With Photo Gallery)”

  1. birdwatcher on March 23rd, 2024 9:26 pm

    …watch your pets!

  2. birdwatcher on March 23rd, 2024 12:12 pm

    These birds are making a comeback in a big way. I’ve seen several bald eagles both adult and juvenile. The other day I saw a pair of swallow tailed kites hunting.

  3. Anne on March 23rd, 2024 9:24 am

    WOW, Amazing Beautiful Awesome birds Great story on Spirit.
    Thank You for caring for and sharing these Magnificent Masters of the Sky.

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