Auburn University raptors ready to soar

By Mike Clardy, Office of Communications and Marketing



Call it a spring training of sorts, only it happens during the summer. While Tiger fans are quite familiar with the majestic eagle flights above Jordan-Hare Stadium on football Saturdays, very few know how much training and preparation are involved in getting them ready.

"We actually start training the birds in July," said Eagle Specialist Roy Crowe. "By August, we need to be here in the stadium, and it's every morning at 7 a.m. inside the stadium getting ready for the season."

Once again two birds, golden eagle Nova (War Eagle VII) and bald eagle Spirit, will handle pregame duties for the 2011 season.

It is not just the morning practices that keep the eagles in top shape. The staff and volunteers at the Southeastern Raptor Center spend each day carefully monitoring their diet, weight and temperature. Even if all three are in balance, there is still an unpredictable element to flying a wild animal in front of 87,000 people.

"It's easy for us to pretend that we have control, but it's a wild bird, " Crowe said. "The wind could hit it or the bird could be in a bad mood that day. I've always said 'a bird will fly, he just might not come back.'"

This season marks the 12th year that Auburn will have flighted birds of prey showcased before home football games. The first flight came off the goal post in 2000; now the eagles soar from as high up as the upper deck.

When Crowe looks back to the early days, he says he knew, even then, that a new tradition was being born.

"It's an expectation that, honestly, is hard to fulfill. Everybody wants a good flight where the bird goes around three times. We want to provide that kind of flight, but we want to make sure we have a bird to fly around the next time."

In addition to eagle specialists Crowe and Marianne Hudson, a number of raptor center volunteers ensure that the eagles are healthy and in shape to fly.

"We could not do our jobs without the volunteers," said Crowe. "We give them huge responsibilities, and not just with the eagles. They are out here early with us at 6:30 in the morning, at the center late. I just can't say enough about them."

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Last Updated: Aug. 29, 2011

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