Regional Public Journalism
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Bald Eagle: A Mighty Symbol, With A Not-So-Mighty Voice

US Fish & Wildlife Service

Few sounds symbolize American patriotism like the piercing shrill of a bald eagle. But just like George Washington and his cherry tree, that majestic call … is a myth. The screech associated with the bald eagle, in fact, belongs to a different bird.

Bird expert Connie Stanger blames Hollywood. You know the scene:

“You’ve got John Wayne riding through the sunset," she says, "and you hear the jingle of spurs and often that piercing, loud cry.”

It's a cry that’s synonymous with America’s national bird. But there’s a problem says Stanger, who works at the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise. If you were to look up at the bird making that sound in real life you wouldn’t see a bald eagle.

“They dub over it with a red tailed hawk’s cry,” Stanger says.

And the reason? Well, take a listen to what the bald eagle actually sounds like

“Unfortunately for the bald eagle, it has like a little cackling type of a laugh that’s not really very impressive for the bird,” Stanger explains.

Stanger says one other thing you might not know about the bird that symbolizes American strength -- most of the images you see are of the female of the species, which are bigger than the males.


This story was originally published on July 2, 2012

On the Web:

Listen to a real bald eagle - Cornell Lab of Ornithology 
Listen to a red-tailed hawk - Cornell Lab of Ornithology