The United States Military Academy at West Point has apologized for a "prank" that injured the Air Force Academy's official mascot. Aurora, a 22-year-old white gyrfalcon, suffered injuries initially thought to be life-threatening after she was abducted along with another bird ahead of Saturday's annual Army-Air Force football game in West Point, the Colorado Spring Gazette reports. Aurora was returned Saturday morning with bloodied wings. The rare birds have a life expectancy of around 25 years in captivity and authorities initially feared Aurora would have to be put down. Officials said Sunday, however, that in an "extremely good sign," she was able to fly around her pen again. She didn't make it to the game, which the Army won 17-14.
Sam Dollar, the Air Force's falconry team adviser, tells the New York Times that two West Point cadets threw sweaters over the birds and stuffed them into dog crates. He believes Aurora injured her wings while she was thrashing around inside the crate. "I think they had them for a couple hours and then they realized it was a bad mistake," says Dollar, who believes the bird will be fine after "a little bit of antibiotics and food and rest." He notes that handling of gyrfalcons is so tightly restricted that unless you're "federally licensed, you can’t even touch them." West Point spokeswoman Lt. Col. Chevelle Thomas says the Army is investigating the incident, which it is taking "very seriously." (The Air Force also uses falcons to protect its planes.)