"The Thunderbirds Delta [formation] safely executed the flyover, when [Thunderbird No. 3] experienced a possible birdstrike," Maj. Ray Geoffroy, spokesman for the demonstration team, based at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, said in a statement. "Out of an abundance of caution, he returned to the base and landed without incident prior to the aerial demonstration portion of today's performance."
The team typically returns after the flyover to perform an aerobatic demonstration for the event, Geoffroy said. The Thunderbirds fly the F-16 Fighting Falcon.
"The rest of the team safely completed the demonstration [and] all aircraft are now back at Peterson Air Force Base, [Colorado], safe and sound," he said.
The Air Force is investigating Thursday's episode. It's not the first time the Thunderbirds have experienced a mishap while performing at the Air Force Academy's graduation ceremony.
After the academy's 2016 graduation event, attended by then-President Barack Obama, Maj. Alex Turner, pilot for the No. 6 jet, crashed in a nearby field in Colorado Springs. Turner was headed back to Peterson but felt that something wasn't right.
"What was that that I just felt there, with my hand?" Turner said he asked at the time of the mishap. Turner sat down with Military.com in 2017 to recall the event.
The official investigation later found that an accidental throttle rotation led to a malfunction and subsequent engine stall, causing Turner's jet to crash.
Since 1995, the Air Force has recorded 105,586 wildlife strikes that damaged aircraft, according to data recently reported by Air Force Times.
Excluding injuries, the strikes have cost the service $817,546,884, Air Force Times reported.
-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.