Do Eagles Actually Sound Like That?

Alright, if you’re looking up this question in the first place it’s probably because you’re at least a little skeptical as to whether the iconic “caw” that we associate with bald eagles in memes and media is real. Short answer to “do eagles sound like that” is no, the bald eagle does not sound like that. But then that raises a new question, where did that sound come from? 

What do bald eagles actually sound like?

The cry of a bald eagle is often described as a “high-pitched whistle,” and you can listen to what a bald eagle actually sounds like here. 

Bald eagles have a few different types of calls, but all fall under the kind of “high-pitched” banner. There’s a softer call made by female bald eagles when they’re trying to find a mate, and male bald eagles will make a louder high-pitched noise as a kind of “alarm.”

Also female bald eagles are like 30% larger than males. They also take alternate shifts when incubating their eggs, which really just makes eagle pairings seem a lot more put together. 

So who made the noise?

We actually know exactly which bird is substituted for the bald eagle cry in media: it’s the red-tailed hawk. Still a North American bird, and they’re also sometimes called “chickenhawks” in the US, even though they don’t really eat chickens. 

Red-tailed hawks are also a lot more aggressive with their cries, they’ll scream when they’re hunting or just flying around. Commonly they’ll cry (loudest too) when they’re mad. Which on the topic of “propagandizing things into seeming more American than they really are,” kind of fits beyond the noise. Being loud is one of the big things Americans are known for internationally, after all. 

Anyway that’s not the point. The point is that in Hollywood, and later the rest of American media, the red-tailed hawk was used as a substitute for the bald eagle. One of the most iconic recordings of the hawk-sound-used-for-eagles was recorded in the 1990s by a guy named Kevin Colver. He doesn’t get royalties though, the recording was put on a CD just called Animal Tracks for use as sound effects. 

Nowadays the red-tailed hawk has just become a stock-sound shorthand for all birds of prey—the sound is even used in non-fiction documentaries. 

See if you know your hawk leaders here.