Beginning in 1959, Alabama College began calling its teams the “Falcons.”
The Alabamian, Montevallo’s student newspaper, held a contest to select a nickname and mascot for the former women’s school in 1959. The paper offered a $25 prize to the person or organization that submitted the best nickname and 50-word essay on why their choice was best.
Ronald Smith, an undergraduate at the time, won the prize money for submitting “Falcons.” At the time the school only sponsored two sports, baseball and men’s golf, and the teams were often called the “Purples” in local papers until the new name was chosen.
In 1967, an actual falcon was given to the school by the Delta social club. The bird, named “Ace,” died in 1970, and was buried on campus and not replaced.
There are three species of falcons indigenous to the state of Alabama: the Peregrine (Falco peregrines), the Merlin (Falco columbarius), and the most common, the American Kestrel (Falco sparverius). The Kestrel looks similar to a swallow when flying and is about the size of a Blue Jay. Shelby County, with its many thickets, creeks and hills, was an ideal habitat for all three at one time.
The Merlin is a bit larger than the Kestrel, though not quite as common, and looks like a miniature Peregrine. Perhaps the fastest-flying bird in the world, the Peregrine is about the size of a crow and is renowned for its migrating ability. Indeed, the Peregrine is found worldwide, but was almost eliminated in the United States in the 1960s and 70’s due to the widespread use of the pesticide DDT. Thanks to captive-breeding programs, the raptor has made a strong comeback in the States and some have even been reintroduced to Alabama. Peregrines have been clocked flying at speeds of 110 miles per hour when diving.
Falconry, or the sport of training falcons and hawks to hunt animals and other birds, was popular among nobles in Europe and the Middle East for centuries.
Buteos, or birds with medium to long wings like the Peregrine, are used in open country and swoop on their prey from the air, while accipiters, birds with short, rounded heads, rounded wings and long tails, perch on a falconer’s glove or tree branch until the prey is spotted, then rely on their speed to catch their quarry. The birds are usually kept hooded when not hunting. All three species of falcon native to Alabama are now Federally-protected species.