The Air Force Academy Falcons lost their longest-living mascot last week. In the end of an era, as the Academy put it, Aurora the Gyrfalcon died Oct. 3 after serving 23 years as the school’s living mascot.
The rare white-phase Gyrfalcon was the academy’s oldest mascot, living to roughly twice the age of falcons in the wild, an academy news release said.
"In addition to serving as an ambassador for USAFA, she was an ambassador for all falcons, helping us educate the public on the importance of these majestic birds," the Air Force said in a statement. "Her impact on the nearly 30 class years of cadet falconers and Falconry Team support staff cannot be overstated. She was a feisty, spirited bird who commanded respect. We all feel her loss deeply."
Gyrfalcons’ life expectancy in captivity is about 25 years, according to tetonraptorcenter.org. Only 3% of falcons are Gyrfalcons, and only 1% of those are white.
Aurora was a gift to the academy from its Association of Graduates in 2000 and had an eventful life.
She was abducted by West Point cadets last year while accompanying the team for a game against Air Force’s service rival. When the Army cadets returned Aurora and another Air Force falcon, she had blood on her wings from abrasions likely caused by thrashing in the crate, the falconry team adviser told The New York Times.
Aurora was the grand dame of the school’s heralded falconry program, which has a half-dozen birds managed by a dozen cadets.
“Our hearts go out to our master and cadet falconers, who lovingly cared for and trained Aurora for more than two decades,” said Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, academy superintendent. “Emblematic of the beauty and majesty of our falcons, Aurora will be greatly missed by generations of cadets, graduates, faculty members, and so many others."
The first live mascot Mach 1, a peregrine falcon, was presented to the Academy in October 1955. Each falcon is named by its cadet falconer.
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