WEST POINT, N.Y. (KKTV/The Gazette) - The Air Force Academy's beloved white gyrfalcon mascot made huge strides Sunday morning after suffering serious injuries and is expected to make a full recovery.
"Aurora returned home last night and as of this morning was able to fly around her pen. She will see a specialist later today who will determine if X-rays are necessary, but this is an extremely good sign. We will continue to evaluate her and administer antibiotics to prevent an infection. We are grateful for the outpouring of support and optimistic for Aurora's recovery," said Lt. Col. Tracy Bunko in a statement Sunday afternoon.
The Air Force Academy later tweeted Aurora would indeed be OK.
Academy officials had initially feared the worst after the 22-year-old mascot suffered injuries to both wings during a visit to West Point for Air Force/Army week. Associate Athletic Director Troy Garnhart told 11 News Aurora was in "bad shape," and there were worries her injuries were life-threatening and would force the academy to euthanize her.
West Point issued an apology Sunday afternoon for the "incident" that injured Aurora.
An Air Force representative told 11 News partner The Gazette under the condition of anonymity that Aurora was hurt during a West Point prank gone awry. According to the source, Aurora was taken from an Army colonel’s home as part of an Air Force/Army week prank by West Point cadets. While being kept by the Army cadets, both of the bird’s wings were injured, the source said.
Garnhart would only confirm on the record that Aurora was hurt during the football team's trip to West Point and that officials were still working out whether she was indeed injured in a prank.
"We are still gathering the facts at this point," he told 11 News.
He told 11 News that if the West Point cadets were found to have harmed Aurora during a prank, it would be up to the Army how to discipline them.
Aurora was brought back to Colorado Springs on Saturday afternoon on the football team’s charter flight.
“She is part of our academy family and we are all hoping for her full and speedy recovery," Bunko said Saturday.
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.