Why Do Hawks Screech?


Screeching is a way of communicating for these magnificent birds. Each hawk species screeches differently and produces distinct tones and sounds. The sound and the tone of their screech depend on their age and sex. Furthermore, it depends on what they want to achieve with their screech or what they want to communicate with some other hawk.

There are all sorts of reasons that can make a hawk screech. One of the most common ones is male hawks marking their territory and sending a warning to other hawks. Typically, hawk screech is quite common during the mating season. Their screeching is not just to warn off other hawks but also other intruders such as humans and other animals. On one occasion, a male hawk was even recorded screeching at motor-homes passing through the woods where it lived. 

Hawks screeching in flight

Red Tailed Hawk in Flight
Red Tailed Hawk in Flight

Screeching while flying is a normal occurrence for hawks. There are even many people that have witnessed hawks screeching at flight. The screeching can be particularly loud during the mating season when they try to warn off other hawks from their territory. That’s their way of establishing their foothold over what they perceive as their territory.

Besides, they might screech in mid-flight when chasing a female hawk. On some occasions, you might even find several male hawks chasing female hawks while loudly screeching.

Other than that, hawks are rarely seen in groups. Most hawk species don’t live in groups. But when they do gather in groups, they do it only for mating or migrating purposes.

Hawks screeching at night

One of the biggest misconceptions about hawks is that they are nocturnal creatures. People think hawks are active at night because they often are seen hunting at dusk.

In truth, hawks are diurnal. That means hawks are active at daylight hours. Sometimes, hawks go out hunting at dusk because some of their prey has the habit of coming out from their layers during those hours. Plus, hawks seem very efficient in using the shadows and dim at dusk to stalk and hunt their prey. But, without any sunlight, they can’t spot and hunt down any prey.

The moment the sun sets, the hawks like to be back at their resting place. They tend to remain there until the sun rises. Hawks are also known to hunt at dawn.

Since hawks are not nocturnal species, the screeching likely comes from other creatures. But if you are confident that it is hawk screeching, then there is a chance that a hawk is awake and screeching to warn-off an intruder. After all, hawks are known as light sleepers that can be easily alerted. 

A Red Tailed Hawk sitting on top of a tree

Hawks screeching when hunting

Typically, hawks don’t screech when they hunt. Instead, they try to be as stealthy as possible when trying to grab their prey. There is no benefit in them screeching over their prey. That can only further frighten their prey and make it run away. 

Harris’s hawks, also known as the bay-winged hawks, are the only exception to that. These hawks hunt in small groups and use screeching as part of their hunting strategy.

In their hunting missions, one of the hawks screeches and makes its presence clear to the prey. While the prey tries to escape the screeching hawk, the others will unexpectedly attack the prey from a different direction.

Hawks screeching at their young

If you are close to their nest and the adult hawks are screeching from the top of their lungs, then know that they are not screeching to their young one. It is you to whom they are screeching towards. That’s how they warn both people and animals to keep away from the nest. Both the male and the female hawk are very protective of their young one and hence the screeching. Therefore, the smart thing to do is to create some distance between the nest and you for them to stop screeching. 

How to tell the difference between male and female screeching?

Male hawks are smaller in size compared to female hawks, and they have a higher-pitched screech. Female hawks are always more aggressive in protecting the nest. During mating season, they tend to screech at each other in a non-aggressive way. That’s their way of courting and impressing each other. 

Then there are their offspring – the young hawks. The young hawks have quiet voices, which is understandable considering their size. Plus, by being quieter, they minimize the chances of attracting predators who prey on hawks. 

Traits of hawks screeching

Typically, the screeching lasts two to three seconds, starts at a high pitch before slurring down. Often, hawks screeching is transcribed as “sheeeeee”, “tsee-eeee-arrr”, or “kree-eee-ar”. The loudest and most persistent screech is when a rival hawk intrudes its territory, in anger, when it feels treated by a predator when defending the nest, or in defiance. 

The magnificent scream of the Red Tailed Hawk

Hawk Screeching vs. Eagle Screeching

Everyone in the world has seen the mighty bald eagle, the symbol of America, and heard its mighty screeching. However, know that you’ve been fooled as what you are hearing is not the actual voice of the glorious bald eagle but the screeching of the red-tailed hawk.

Blame it on Hollywood for dubbing over the bald eagle’s call with the call of the red-tail hawk. They did it with one thing in mind, to make the symbol of America sound tougher. The truth is, the bald eagle has a truly un-inspirational sound, similar to one of a way smaller bird. 

The next time you see the big, bold eagle cruising the sky, and when you get that chill from its mighty scream, know that you are listening to a hawk screeching. Now, you know the secret of the big bald eagle. 

Nevertheless, it’s not likely that someone will give credit to the red-tail hawk when they show the bald eagle roaming the sky on TV and doing its now established “signature screech”. But at least you will know that you hear the voice of a hawk and not an eagle.

Archiwum: marzec 2021

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