image of red-tailed hawk in flight

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk, courtesy of USFWS;
photographer: Keenan Adams

You might notice that many of the sounds on the library’s Acoustic Atlas are credited to Kevin Colver. Kevin is one of the pre-eminent wildlife recordists in the United States. He is co-author of the Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs: Western Region and has captured the calls of just about every bird known to occur in the West. He is also responsible for one of the most famous animal sound recordings ever made.

We have all heard it. In truck commercials. Hollywood movies. The Discovery Channel. Even the Stephen Colbert show. It is the red-tailed hawk screech heard ’round the world:

Listen to red-tailed hawk


The piercing screech has come to stand as a cliche for the rugged expanse of nature, and after having heard the sound for the zillionth time (I heard it in The Hobbit yesterday), you might have wondered: Who is the guy that recorded that? And does he get any royalties?

Kevin made the recording in the mid-1990s for a sound effects company that released it on a CD called Animal Tracks. The CD ended up becoming the industry standard for movies, radio and TV shows, video games and commercials. Kevin recorded many of the birds and assorted other animals for it. All royalty free.

You can read more about Kevin and the hawk in a profile that was published in Outside magazine a few years ago. You can also hear many of Kevin’s recordings on the Acoustic Atlas. 

Certainly, other recordings of red-tailed hawks are also used in Hollywood, but Colver’s recording seems to be very popular. A sonogram is the only way to know for sure which hawk has been used. All of the above recordings have the same sound signature. For example, here’s a sonogram of Colver’s original recording next to the one used on the Colbert Report. The two vertical (thumb-like?) prints on the right side show Colbert’s voice, but you can see the hawk screech passing through with the same length, frequency and shape as the original on the left.


image of sonogram of red-tailed hawk