WEST POINT, N.Y. • Air Force’s live mascot suffered potentially life-threatening injuries because of a West Point prank gone awry.
The 22-year-old white gyrfalcon, Aurora, was taken from an Army colonel’s home as part of an Air Force/Army week prank by West Point cadets, according to an Air Force representative speaking to The Gazette on the condition of anonymity.
While being kept by the Army cadets, both of the bird’s wings were injured, academy sources said.
Given its advanced age, the Air Force official said, Aurora might need to be euthanized.
Aurora was being brought back to Colorado Springs on Saturday afternoon on the football team’s charter flight, Air Force associate athletic director for communications Troy Garnhart said.
“USAFA mascot Aurora was injured over the weekend and is being transported back to Colorado,” academy spokeswoman Lt. Col Tracy Bunko said. “We have specialists at the academy who have the best training and facilities for her care. She is part of our academy family and we are all hoping for her full and speedy recovery.”
According to tetonraptorcenter.org, this type of bird can live to be 25 in captivity.
Air Force generally brings two mascots to games, but only had one on Saturday as Army defeated the Falcons 17-14 at Michie Stadium.
Aurora was the grand dame of the school’s falconry program, which includes a half-dozen birds managed by a dozen cadets. For more than two decades, she had traveled with cadets, posing for crowds. Aurora’s well-known temper and flighty nature meant that she was seldom used as a flying mascot, but she was docile enough with a handler to give thousands of people their first up-close glance of a live falcon.
But Aurora can be a fierce opponent if riled, the source said.
“She has 2-inch talons,” the source said. “That’s going to take more than a tetanus shot to fix.”
Mascot stealing has been tied to the rivalry between Navy and Army for more than a century, with West Point famed for “getting the Navy’s goat,” a reference to the Naval Academy mascot.
But since the academy was founded in 1954, no foe has gotten to one of the school’s birds.
The birds are guarded at the academy and have an assigned cadet guardian when they travel.
The falcon, though, is a difficult mascot at times. On several occasions, including at a football game last season, the academy’s flying mascot has flown away. The most recent incident ended when cadet corralled the bird in a parking lot, but other escapes have been more extreme.
In one instance, one of the school’s birds escaped at a bowl game in New Orleans and was found hours later and miles away.