It's a popular game day tradition at Auburn University--an eagle soars above the football stadium before the game. But that tradition is in jeopardy. "Spirit," the eagle, is sick and may not recover.
So far, 11 other birds at Auburn's Raptor Rehabilitation Center have died from the same infection. Doctors say with "Spirit," they're hoping for a better outcome, but they can't make any guarantees.
"Spirit" and his predecessor, "Tiger," were among those infected during a recent outbreak of Mycoplasma Gallisepticum, a bacteria dangerous only to birds. In some cases, it does not produce symptoms. But in others, it can ultimately lead to death.
The Raptor Rehabilitation Center specializes in treating birds and then releasing them back to the wild. Doctors say the bacteria first surfaced in January. "We think that a bird brought this in," said Dr. Jill Heatley. "The bird could have had it and not shown any signs, then get ill and spread it to other birds."
Doctors say right now, neither Spirit nor Tiger is showing any serious symptoms of the infection. And they don't appear to be doing as poorly as the birds who died. But in order to fly again at football games, Spirit would have to go through extensive training that may prove to be too much for him.
If it is determined that Spirit cannot return to his role as mascot, the dean of Auburn's School of Veterinary Medicine says the tradition will continue, even if it means finding a new eagle.