The sounds hawks make differ from species to species. A few species rarely make calls. Among hawk species that do communicate vocally, their tones vary by age and gender. Among the many bird species considered hawks, red-tailed hawks -- which the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology website says are likely the most common hawk species in North America -- call with a distinctive screech, usually while soaring.
Red-tailed hawks make different sounds to communicate according to situation. Females and nestlings call to their males for food during the nesting period. Adult red-tailed hawks make the distinctive, hoarse screech, often described as a scream. They also make a scolding call. Hawk chicks have weaker calls. When they court, red-tailed hawks give a shrill call: "chwirk," according the the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website. This mating sound is often made as a series of calls.
Hawks most often screech in flight. A male screeches to announce his territory during the mating season. A hawk will screech loudly and repeatedly to defend his territory, generally from other hawks. The hawk screeches at other invaders, too. Researchers recorded a male hawk repeatedly flying and screeching at motor-homes driving through his woods, the Oakland Museum of California's website reports.
Hawks may screech in alarm or pain. Pat Gaines, a scientist and birdwatcher, photographed territorial kingbirds attacking red-tailed hawks. In one instance a kingbird rode a hawk while pecking at the hawks head. Gaines got his amazing shot of the kingbird riding the hawk because he heard the hawk screaming, the "Denver Post" website reported. Red-tails don't prey on kingbirds. The small birds outnumbered the hawks and dived at them repeatedly to make them leave the area.
Because of his smaller size, the male's screech tends to be higher-pitched than the female's. The female red-tail is a third larger than the male and is more aggressive in protecting the nest. Female and male hawks have the same coloring. The smaller male has the advantage of greater speed to hunt his territory and provide for his brooding mate and their offspring. If the female has to leave the nest for food, the nestlings may be eaten by predators. The quieter voices of young hawks are natural for their size and may help them survive by reducing the risk of attracting owls and others who prey on hawks.
- The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds: Red-Tailed Hawk - Sounds
- Wildlife of Pennsylvania and the Northeast; Charles Fergus
- Oakland Museum of California: Listening to Nature - Sierran Foothills
- Denver Post: "Awesome" Photo a Hit for Westminster Birder
- Science Museum of Minnesota: Lee & Rose Warner Nature Center - Red-Tailed Hawk
- John Foxx/Stockbyte/Getty Images