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An End of Era: Beloved Academy falcon mascot dies at age 23

(U.S. Air Force Academy photo)

Story by Ray Bowden, Oct. 3, 2019

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. – Aurora, a White Phase Gyrfalcon and the Academy’s official mascot, died midday Oct. 2.

She lived to be 23, roughly twice the age of falcons in the wild.

“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.”

Aurora was a rare bird; three percent of falcons are Gyrfalcons and one percent of Gyrfalcons are white.

“In her 23 years at the Academy, she interacted with tens of thousands of people at sporting venues and military and community events,” said Col. Jennifer Alexander, officer in-charge of the Academy’s Falconry team and head of the school’s economics and geosciences department. “In addition to serving as an ambassador for the Academy, she was an ambassador for all falcons, helping us educate the public on the importance of these majestic birds.

“Her impact on the nearly 30 class years of cadet falconers and Falconry Team support staff cannot be overstated,” Alexander said. “She was a feisty, spirited bird who commanded respect. We all feel her loss deeply.”

Aurora had fallen ill in recent months. She was euthanized by a veterinarian just after 1 p.m. Oct. 2 after a blood test showed her internal organs to be shutting down, Alexander said.

“I feel like it’s the end of an era, and Aurora will go down in history,” said Cadet 1st Class James Barney, an Academy falconer.