Why Hollywood Uses Red-Tailed Hawk Screeches for Bald Eagles

Logan Anderson

Updated Friday, May 24, 2024 at 1:18 PM CDT

Why Hollywood Uses Red-Tailed Hawk Screeches for Bald Eagles

Hollywood's Sound Substitution Tradition

The substitution of the red-tailed hawk's screech for the bald eagle's call began in early film and TV, particularly during the black-and-white era when sound effects were being pioneered. This practice has continued for decades, creating a perception that the fierce screech of the red-tailed hawk is the actual call of the bald eagle. But why did this substitution happen in the first place?

Red-tailed hawks have a distinctive cry that sounds predatory and not silly or chirpy, making it suitable for representing eagles in media. Their cry is both dramatic and intense, qualities that Hollywood sound designers seek to enhance the visual impact of a scene. In contrast, the actual call of the bald eagle is more akin to the high-pitched giggle of a seagull, which hardly conveys the majestic and powerful image that filmmakers want to project.

Practicality and Convenience in Sound Recording

Red-tailed hawks are common and easy to record, making their cries a cheap and convenient choice for sound effects. These birds thrive in various environments and are easy to keep in captivity, providing an accessible source for vocal samples. This accessibility contrasts with the bald eagle, which has been endangered for a long time and prefers rocky areas near large bodies of water, making them less accessible for recordings.

Furthermore, bald eagles are more challenging to handle in captivity due to their size and temperament. They can be aggressive and may bite if handled in a way they find annoying, as evidenced by an incident involving Donald Trump in 2016. This makes the red-tailed hawk not only a more practical choice but also a safer one for those involved in the recording process.

The Role of Foley Artists in Enhancing Drama

Foley artists are hired in productions to create sounds, often substituting actual sounds with more dramatic or effective alternatives. For instance, the sound of ice falling into a glass or the hiss of a carbonated bottle opening are often added in post-production for clarity and impact. This creative liberty in sound design is not limited to everyday sounds but extends to the animal kingdom as well.

Monty Python famously used coconuts to mimic horse hooves, illustrating the creative liberties taken in sound design. Similarly, the substitution of the red-tailed hawk's screech for the bald eagle's call is an example of Hollywood's shortcuts to achieve the desired dramatic effect. The practice has become so entrenched in media that audiences now associate the red-tailed hawk's cry with the bald eagle, reinforcing this cinematic illusion.

Hollywood's Prioritization of Drama Over Accuracy

Hollywood prioritizes drama, and the bald eagle's high-pitched giggle-like call lacks the fierce and majestic quality needed for films. Directors in Hollywood decided that the bald eagle’s real call wasn’t majestic enough, leading to the use of the red-tailed hawk's screech. This practice highlights the difference between reality and cinematic representation, emphasizing the industry's focus on creating an engaging and dramatic experience for viewers.

The perception of what an eagle sounds like in media has been shaped by the consistent use of the red-tailed hawk's screech. This sound has become a standard trope, reinforcing the idea that it is the call of a bald eagle. The ease of obtaining recordings from red-tailed hawks due to their commonality and captivity compatibility further contributed to their use in media, solidifying this auditory illusion.

The creative liberties taken in sound design, such as using the red-tailed hawk's screech for bald eagles, highlight the difference between reality and cinematic representation. This practice, rooted in the early days of film and TV, continues to shape our perception of these majestic birds, prioritizing drama and impact over accuracy.

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