Air Force Cadet 1st Class Jeremiah Baxter had the uneasy feeling of looking up and watching Ace, one of the Air Force Academy’s performance falcons, fly into the Louisiana sky rather than toward the lure the cadet falconer was holding on the field at the Independence Bowl. Ace was scheduled to perform at Air Force’s bowl game against Georgia Tech Dec. 15 at Independence Stadium in Shreveport, La.
Ace, however, had other plans.
So what happens when one of the falcons flies away and how did the academy find him? It’s not like when your dog runs down the street and you call his name and hold out a treat. Or is it?
We contacted John Van Winkle, assistant officer in charge of cadet falconry, to figure out why Ace flew away and how the academy found him in a Shreveport parking garage before the game even ended.
I’ll let Van Winkle take it from here:
“The falcon in question was Ace, a black gyr/saker hybrid who’s one of our top flying performers. And he proved the “flying” portion of his job description by flying off to check out downtown Shreveport. Can’t blame him — one of the nice parts about away games and especially bowl games is checking out the local area.
“Ace flew off because we tried to fly him when he was too heavy — about 1.5 to 2 ounces over his target weight. Since the falcons perform for their dinner, a heavy bird is a happy bird who is not focused on catching the lure. So Ace went and enjoyed a little bit of the local area, and in doing so provided a little different flavor of entertainment that what we were expecting.
“We retrieved him about two quarters later and had him back in the stadium by the fourth quarter. Before every flight, we attach short- and long-range transmitters to the falcons’ legs, and we are able to triangulate their position. Once we get close, we offer food, and they normally return to us (remember that we don’t train them to hunt, so we’re their one source of food.)
“So all’s well that ends well. Ace got to see the stadium, a little bit of downtown Shreveport, and was back in time to see us win in the fourth quarter. All we can do is laugh about it, and remind the cadets that this is one more reason why we check the falcons’ weight closely every day, especially for the flying performers. A fat bird can become a free bird, and then it’s chase time.”