Red-tailed’s kee-eeeee-arr is used to represent all raptors, and more-

“Cry like an eagle” . . . you can just imagine it as you read the phrase. It must be bold. Maybe it should be the title of a song or a novel. The Colbert Report doesn’t use a real eagle cry. It would be a metajoke — a joke about the joke. This is because in reality an eagle’s cry doesn’t amount to much. They are tiny, a big embarrassment for such a grand bird.

In the movies, for certain scenes the actor’s body is often replaced by a “body double.” The double has the muscles, or breasts perhaps, that we expect the actor to have. In the movies when it comes to eagles, and raptors in general, they use a “bird cry double.” It is almost always the cry of the red-tailed hawk. You will know it by heart even if you have never heard one outdoors. It is so common, and it is used to represent many things. The cry often signifies that the scene has moved to the serious outdoors, where danger lurks.

Some other hawks have fairly impressive calls, but they don’t make as many as the red-tails. They don’t quite match up. In addition, using canned red-tail cries works for an outdoors challenged movie director who knows nothing about birds.

Salon Magazine has just posted an article that says this cry has become a a cliche or worse. Read Raptor porn: The  ridiculous proliferation  of the red-tail call. By Christopher Cokinos.

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides.

17 Responses to Red-tailed hawk cries are overused

  1. avatar Ida Lupines says:

    Ha! This reminds me of the kookaburra call in movies too. 🙂 The redtails have a great call tho.

  2. avatar Nancy says:

    Good article Ralph! I have a pair of Starlings that show up every spring and raise a family under the eves of an old building on the property. The male does an amusing imitation of a Red Tailed Hawk thats had me looking to the skies on more than one occasion 🙂

  3. avatar topher says:

    I was walking across a pasture to fish the lower Porneuf River one day, being careful to avoid the pasture bull,when I heard this call about a foot and a half above my head as I recieved a little flyby. It nearly scared me to death.I watched as the bird gained altitude to take another pass so I turned to face it and figured I would swat it with my rod if I needed to. Subsequent passes were about twelve feet above me and were slightly less terrifying but went on for about fifteen minutes. Living here you hear the call often but never pay much attention until it is directed at you.

    • avatar V.C. Wald says:

      I noticed this annoying convention years ago. Ads (mostly for cars), movies, even nature documentaries, all guilty! People who aren’t much tuned in to nature (e.g., people who make soundtracks for the film industry) are the same types who call chimps monkeys, not able to discern the differences we aficionados take for granted.
      BTW, it’s not just a red-tail cry, it’s a red-tail cry that echoes off the “canyon walls” just a little. Maybe it’s not copyrighted so they can use it over and over without adding to the budget?

  4. avatar Immer Treue says:

    Agreed!

  5. avatar Richard says:

    Fun for us biophles to call out the false or poorly used nature sounds. I get a kick out of the cactus wren calls that are used, while the program is featuring back East story lines or even better in a rainy forest setting.

  6. avatar Ken Cole says:

    Even Stellar’s jays overuse them 😉

  7. avatar Ida Lupines says:

    From the article:

    Red-tailed hawks are a highly successful, widespread species that field-guide author David Sibley says is “the buteo to which all others are compared.”

    Ha! 🙂

  8. avatar LM says:

    Do you think Animal Planet’s, “Call of the Wildman” the Turtleman makes the sound of that Red Tail in the introductory scene. Sounds like another case of Raptor porn. It’s funny that you should post this because every time I watch an episode I wonder about that part. Lol!

    • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

      To me, the introduction to Call of the Wildman sounds like a man just calling in a “wild way.”

      • avatar LM says:

        There is definitely a Red Tail segment about halfway through the intro and I don’t think any human could mimic a Red Tail OR the wild call of the Turtleman ! 🙂

  9. avatar Robert Goldman says:

    Hawks rock! Canoeing the Allahash two summers ago, one flew suddenly and silently out of the forest to the river. About thirty feet in front of our canoe. I was closest in the bow. Jaw dropping, so magnificent. It hovered like a chopper, a couple of feet above the river, looking and searching. It then dropped its talons into the water and proceeded to probe and struggle. Such concentratation and effort. It’s hard work was rewarded with a silver fish. I will never forget that strong and magnificent hawk. Pure magic.

  10. avatar mikepost says:

    I walked into a stark burned patch of forest by Yellowstone Lake to answer a call of nature when 2 white wolves from the Mollies Pack walked across my path about 100 yards out. The woods were standing dead but thick and they did not see me. They were moving fast and I wanted a better view so I howled at them…my best sterotypical canine howl. They stopped dead and gave me that same look my dog gives me when I do something terribly inexpicable…that ears forward, head cocked to the side, “wtf” look. They paused only for a moment and then dismissed me and my howl and kept on going…a canned red tail call may actually have worked better….???

  11. avatar WyoWolfFan says:

    It is interesting how the red-tailed hawks cry is heard everywhere around the world for a scene in the outdoors. You also hear the great-horned owls hoot as the default owl sound and the peacock’s cry for scenes in the jungle.

  12. avatar V.C. Wald says:

    I noticed this annoying convention years ago. Ads (mostly for cars), movies, even nature documentaries, all guilty! People who aren’t much tuned in to nature (e.g., people who make soundtracks for the film industry) are the same types who call chimps monkeys, not able to discern the differences we aficionados take for granted.
    BTW, it’s not just a red-tail cry, it’s a red-tail cry that echoes off the “canyon walls” just a little. Maybe it’s not copyrighted so they can use it over and over without adding to the budget?

  13. avatar Kestrel says:

    I feel the same way about the hermit thrush call! Movies & TV shows use it all the time to demonstrate a “happy” outdoors scene!

    Despite the fact that it’s an interior forest bird, they play it all the time in the suburbs or whatever. It is a beautiful call…

    • avatar Helen McGinnis says:

      Even worse are loons calling in the desert, or wherever it’s supposed to be spooky. Movie makers spend millions on costumes etc but apparently nothing on getting the right nature sounds. I am not the only person disturbed by this, but I presume the majority of the public doesn’t know or care.

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