With concern for the health of War Eagle VI, a 26-year-old golden eagle named Tiger, there were no flights last season, which proved to be a disappointment to Auburn fans who attend the football games. Tiger is healthy again and could be flying again over Jordan-Hare Stadium this year. The same is true of Nova or a third bird named Spirit, which is a bald eagle.
"The birds are in good shape right now," says Roy Crowe of the Southeastern Raptor Rehabilitation Center, who brought Nova to football practice on Tuesday. "They are in the molt, which means they are adding feathers and dropping feathers.
"This time of year we feed them up, but now as the fall is coming in and the temperature has dropped a little bit days like this are ideal for us to get out with the birds. We have to be very careful about the heat on the bird."
Auburn University interim president Dr. Ed Richardson is expected to make the decision on whether or not one of the eagles will fly in the pre-game shows. The main emphasis of the raptor center is to use birds like Tiger for education. However, the program has become high profile due to the pre-game flights at Auburn football games and being part of the 2002 Winter Olympics ceremonies in Salt Lake City.
"Mary Ann Worley and I are the education outreach people," Crowe says. "She is a wildlife biologist. We spend an awful lot of time in schools. Our primary mission is to make a difference in these kids' lives. We get out and take these birds to schools. Dean (Timothy R.) Boosinger and the school (school of veterinary medicine) have been great to supply us to enable us to do it.
"Most people see us as the people who take care of Tiger, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. The real difference we make is when we visit the schools. We travel all over the Southeast of the United States and we don't just take the eagles. We take owls, falcons and hawks--a whole cast of birds. That is what we do.
Roy Crowe is shown with Nova at the Auburn football practice field.
Eagles can live to be 50 years old. Wild birds who are injured and can be released back into the wild are treated and set free by the raptor center. Others, like Tiger who was born in an illegal breeding operation in Missouri, are more suited to stay at the raptor center and be part of the education program.
"Our mission is three-fold," Crowe tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. "We have rehab, which takes injured birds and tries to rehab them where they can released. We also do research. What Mary Ann and I do is the education side of it. Dr. (Jennifer) Heatley takes care of the rehab birds."
Crowe says there is satisfaction in the educational part of his job. "The difference we can make is to get kids interested in learning--get them into a library, get them to read and get them impassioned about something that will stimulate their education," he says.
"We try our best not to turn a school down. There is a cost associated with our program. Our mission is to do education and outreach, it is not to make money. We do have to charge for these programs, but we do everything we can to make it fit into the teachers' curricula. We work hard at it."
Crowe says the flights at Auburn's game have given the program more opportunities to expose the birds to students eager to learn. "That is the advantage of the football games," he says. "There are a lot of teachers sitting out there and thinking, "That is neat. I wonder if my third grade students could see that. Our answer is, we will sure try."
The Tigers open the 2004 season on Sept. 4th vs. Louisiana-Monroe. That day thousands of fans planning to attend the event may get a chance to see the renewal of what quickly became one of Auburn football's most beloved traditions as the eagle circles in the sky above Jordan-Hare Stadium before sweeping down onto midfield to the cheers of young and old from throughout the stadium.