Before each Auburn football game, an eagle is set free to circle the stadium and land in the center of the field while the crowd screams “War Eagle!” The most popular story of how the university got such a dramatic tradition starts back in 1892, when Auburn was playing Georgia.
An aging Civil War veteran in the crowd had brought his pet eagle, which he’d found while a soldier on a battlefield. He’d nursed the injured bird back to health and it lived as his companion. During the football game, the eagle suddenly propelled itself from the man’s solider and soared above the field. Below the flying eagle, Auburn took control of the game and as the team made a touchdown drive the students chanted “War Eagle!” while the bird continued to fly. At the end of the game, Auburn had won and the eagle then plummeted dead to the field.
Over 100 years later, the War Eagle and its majestic pre-game flight are icons of Auburn football. Auburn fans greet each other by saying “War Eagle” (an exchange of this phrase is known as a “War Eagle Moment”). The war eagles are all housed and cared for by the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Southeastern Raptor Center, which treats and rehabilitates injured raptors.
Currently serving is War Eagle VII, a golden eagle named Nova. A rehabilitated bald eagle named Spirit also makes flights on special occasions. The retired War Eagle VI, a golden eagle named Tiger who was rescued from an illegal breeding operation, is still used by the Raptor Center to promote conservation.