USAF Academy Criticized for Using Live-Bird Mascots

Young Gyrfalcon Should Spend Her Life in the Sky, Not as a Sports Prop Kept in a Cage

For Immediate Release:
June 30, 2020

Nicole Meyer 202-483-7382

Colorado Springs, Colo. – It is the ultimate irony: The U.S. Air Force (USAF) Academy has acquired a young gyrfalcon to use as a mascot and intends to deny her a good life and the opportunity to use her wings as nature intended, i.e., to fly free. PETA sent a letter this morning urging the school for human flyers to end its captive live-bird mascot program. PETA notes that birds kept as mascots for sporting events have slammed into windows, broken loose from their handlers, and even been kicked by players—and the USAF Academy’s previous live gyrfalcon mascot, Aurora, was injured in 2018 during a prank abduction.

“While USAF pilots get to fly, USAF Academy live-bird mascots are denied that same freedom, which is integral to who they are,” says PETA Senior Director of Youth Programs Marta Holmberg. “Birds aren’t sports props, and PETA is calling on the academy to leave wild birds in nature, where they can soar freely and live in peace.”

PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment”—opposes speciesism, which is a human-supremacist worldview. For more information, please visit

PETA’s letter to USAF Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay B. Silveria follows.

June 30, 2020

Lieutenant General Jay B. Silveria, USAF


United States Air Force Academy

Dear General Silveria,

I’m writing on behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and our more than 6.5 million members and supporters worldwide to urge you to retire the U.S. Air Force Academy’s newly acquired female gyrfalcon and pledge not to use live-animal mascots in the future.

In their natural homes, gyrfalcons are known for spectacular aerial displays. During nesting season, they defend a territory nearly a mile wide, and they are fast flyers who can reach speeds of more than 100 miles per hour when hunting. The as-yet-unnamed gyrfalcon deserves to spend her days with her mate—gyrfalcons are monogamous and mate for life—raising her chicks and soaring free, not being shuffled from football games to community parades like a piece of sporting equipment. It’s ironic, to say the least, that the Air Force Academy would keep majestic birds in confinement while training its cadets to fly.

A stadium filled with screaming fans, flashing lights, and a booming sound system is an entirely unsuitable environment for birds, as they can become disoriented and be seriously injured or even killed. Birds at sporting events have slammed into windows, broken loose from their handlers, and even been kicked by players. As you well know, Aurora, the bird previously used as an Air Force Academy mascot, sustained wing injuries when she was stolen as a prank by West Point cadets.

It’s never been clearer that the public is against using animals as props or forcing them to perform—as evidenced by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus’ closure after 146 years and the restrictions or prohibitions that nearly 700 venues and dozens of communities nationwide have placed on animal exhibits. Recognizing this stance as well as the cruelty inherent in using sentient beings as mascots, many schools have retired their animals and switched to employing costumed humans.

I urge you to join them by retiring this young gyrfalcon and pledging not to use real animals as mascots going forward.


Marta Holmberg

Senior Director

For Media: Contact PETA's
Media Response Team.


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“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

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