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Air Force falcons enjoy pre-game perch in Carmel Valley

With garage perches and quail snacks, the United States Air Force Academy falcons settled into their short-term vacation home in Carmel Valley prior to the football team’s match-up with San Diego State University on Oct. 12.

This was the eighth time that Phillip and Beth Alpert have opened their Carmel Valley home to the U.S. Air Force Academy’s Falconry team, both the birds and the cadets.

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Aurora the Gyr-Falcon Karen Billing

“We support the Air Force Academy and love the military,” said Alpert, whose son Major Dave Alpert, a Torrey Pines High School alum, graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2008. He is now a C-17 pilot in Charleston, flying the same aircraft used to transport the falconry team to San Diego.

This year, the Alperts hosted the four-cadet falconry team and three falcons: Zeus, a tiny but fiesty American kestrel; Oblio the peregrine falcon; and the senior member of the group, the extremely rare white Gyr-falcon Aurora. The 22-year-old Aurora is the official mascot of the US Air Force Academy.

Zeus, the American kestrel
Zeus, the American kestrel Karen Billing

The cadets representing the falconry team included senior team captain Kaila Baca, Skylar Rose, a sophomore from California, Sean Weathersby, a senior from Alabama, and Sean Kean, a sophomore from Colorado.

Cadets try out to be selected for 12 falconer positions. The falconers spend about a month learning basic handling and presentation skills and are then in charge of caring for the falcons, making educational presentations and representing Air Force Academy at home and away games.

As the birds are very territorial, the team set up their own little spaces for the birds in the Alpert’s garage. As a falcon’s vision is about eight to 10 times stronger than a human’s, both Oblio and Aurora wear leather hoods so they are not over-stimulated.

“It would be like walking around with binoculars all the time,” Weathersby described.

Zeus prefers not to wear his.

“He thinks he’s bigger than he is, he wants to see everything,” Rose said. “He acts like he’s dying when you try to put a hood on.”

There are four birds who perform at halftime during home games, flying over the field from the press box. However, the falcons don’t fly at away games. While visiting, the team’s job is mostly to interact with the public and hopefully inspire the next young cadet in the crowd to take flight toward the Air Force Academy.

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