SPECIES

Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos

Todd E. Katzner, Michael N. Kochert, Karen Steenhof, Carol L. McIntyre, Erica H. Craig, and Tricia A. Miller
Version: 2.0 — Published September 17, 2020

Sounds and Vocal Behavior

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Sounds and Vocal Behavior

Often reported to be relatively quiet, calling only occasionally and briefly (389, 390), however, several studies and observations suggest that the Golden Eagle vocalizes more than previously realized and uses a wide variety of calls for many purposes. There is no information on geographic variation of vocalizations. Use of sound-enabled video cameras at nests will likely add new information about the development and repertoire of vocalizations of nestlings and their parents. Likewise, as telemetry and audio and video recording technology improve, the vocal repertoire of free-flying eagles can be recorded and more thoroughly understood.

There are few studies of vocalizations and nearly all from captive settings with very small sample sizes. Furthermore, descriptions of calls often don’t translate well to the written word as each author transliterates sounds into their own words. To simplify our descriptions of these sounds, we have retained from the literature only those descriptions that are universally onomatopoetic (e.g., chirp and cheep), and we parenthetically reference those that may be less universally understood (e.g., "yarp" and "yap").

Vocalizations

Development

Nestlings can start vocalizing with a hoarse chirp up to two days before hatching (78). The clear chirp of newly hatched nestlings (389) rapidly develops as a series of chirp or cheep calls (78) and high-pitched chitter (389). By 10 days of age, nestlings may perform a more complex chirp (“rattle-chirp”; 78). By 40 days of age, many nestling calls are indistinguishable from those of their parents (78). Jollie (389) reported that many nestlings add grunts and moans to their vocalizations as they become older. For additional details, see Vocal Array.

Vocal Array

Most calls made by young nestlings differ substantially from those made by juveniles, subadults, and adults (78, 389, 2, 388).

Nestling calls can be harsh and whistle-like (391) or low pitched and resonant. At times, they can be heard > 1.6 km from nests (391, 311). Calls made almost exclusively by nestlings include:

  • A disyllabic call used prior to 15 days of age (“tsik"; 78).
  • A separate disyllabic call with a high pitched and prolonged first syllable and a short, low frequency and tapered second syllable ("seeir"; 78). This call has only been recorded by nestlings > 15 days of age (78).
  • A drawn out and repeated call heard as a whistle followed by a lower frequency note ("Pssa"; 78). This has been recorded by birds between 25 and 40 days of age (78).
  • A dog-like barking call only heard after 52 days of age ("skonk"; 78).

The distinct vocalizations documented by different older age classes of eagles, include:

  • A drawn-out clear monosyllabic call or whistle ("chirp"; 392, 389), and a "falsetto chirp” (392) that is repeated at intervals or groups (78).
  • An extremely rapid, high frequency chitter (“rattle-chirp”; 78).
  • A dog-like bark call, distinct from the above call (“wonk"; 78).
  • A very plaintive or shrill call (“cherop”; 393).
  • A shorter and higher frequency bark (“wip"; 78).
  • A drawn out, low frequency whine that resembles the honk of a goose (“honk"; 78). This call has only been recorded in captivity (78).
  • A blowing or hissing sound (“hiss”; 392, 78).
  • A deep rasping "croak" (392).
  • Mewing cries used during displays (“weee-o"; 32).
  • Thin shrill calls (“pleek" or "tsewk"; 32).
  • A loud duck-like call (“wak-wak-wak"; 394).

Jollie (389) described high-pitched far-carrying calls ("yelps"). Gordon (390) also described deep liquid babbling notes by adults. It is not clear how these calls relate to those noted above. In contrast, the loud clear yelping “weeeo-hyo-hyo-hyo" and clucking "tsyuck-tsyuck" (from nestlings when soliciting food) calls described by Brown and Amadon (32) were interpreted by Ellis (78) as the “skonk-wonk-wonk-wonk" and "pssa-pssa" calls, respectively. Many field researchers report a loud single-syllable call, often emitted as a series, by nestlings, juveniles, subadults, and adults (“Yarp”, often given in an extended series “yarp-yarp-yarp-yarp”) (CLM, KS, MNK, EHC).

Geographic Variation

Not known.

Phenology

Vocalize throughout the year (389), but possibly more frequently in the nesting period. During nesting, mated eagles are said to vocalize more than unmated individuals (389). Information on vocalizations of non-territorial eagles during the nesting season is very limited, and information on vocalizations of all age classes outside the nesting season is almost non-existent.

Daily Pattern of Vocalizing

Limited information. A pair in the northern Brooks Range, Alaska, was reported to vocalize nearly every day in May (394).

Places of Vocalizing

Limited information. Nestlings call from the nest, parents respond in the nest or from nearby. Adults vocalize from perches near the nest (395, 388) and in flight, particularly just before prey or nesting material delivery, and during incubation exchanges (78, 388, KS). Young that have left the nest often vocalize from the base of the nesting cliff (KS).

Gender Differences

Dixon (311) and Jollie (389) reported that pitches of individual males and females differ enough in tone to be distinguishable, with males having a more high-pitched voice and females a more “barking” voice. There have been no detailed studies of difference in sounds of male and females. However, Ellis (78) described a call made only by adult females on the nest when eaglets appear to be threatened. Similarly, adult males were never heard to use the female’s copulation call, which she is reported to make just before, during and briefly after copulation (78).

Repertoire and Delivery of Songs

Not applicable, as Golden Eagle does not sing.

Social Context and Presumed Functions of Vocalizations

Most calls of nestlings and recently fledged birds appear to have a food-begging function (391, 389, 345, 78, 2). Nestlings call frequently as soon as they hatch (392), giving cheep calls nearly constantly when awake during the first two to three weeks post-hatching (389), and sometimes with great persistence throughout the brood-rearing period (391). Their typical call note becomes progressively louder and harsher with age (2). The frequency of vocalizations decreases by 6 weeks of age (389). Vocalizations of nestlings and fledglings also are associated with temperature stress, aggression, food begging, or the appearance of a parent (32, 345, 78, 396, 2). Ellis (78) heard chirp calls only at feeding time or when tiny nestlings were exposed to hot or cold weather. Feeding-specific calls are also used by older nestlings and fledglings (“pssa”; 78). Nestlings may vocalize or hiss when a human intruder enters the nest (392, 78) or may emit harsh high-pitched chattering during interactions with other nestlings that appear aggressive or angry (32). Nestlings perform barking calls when other avian species, such as Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis), Franklin’s Gull (Leucophaeus pipixcan), and American Kestrel (Falco sparverius), pass close to their nest (“skonk";78). Nestlings > 49 days of age often vocalize when approached by a small helicopter during aerial surveys in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska (CLM). It is not known if these are food begging or stress responses. Similarly, a 64-d old nestling was reported to bark multiple times when a helicopter passed about 300 m from its nest (“skonk"; 78).

Fledglings also use vocalizations to communicate with their siblings and parents (391, 397, 396, 398, 2, 388). Mutual calling between fledged siblings or fledged siblings and their parents is thought to have facilitated parents finding their offspring in forested habitat in Japan (397). In North Dakota, during the 42 days after fledging, the juvenile call rate nearly doubled when a parent was present (mean 21.8 calls/h ± 3.526 SE) versus when parents were absent (mean 11.5 calls/h ± 1.739 SE) (396). The number of calls per hour by juveniles does not differ between sexes (396). During the post-fledging dependency period in southwestern Idaho, young vocalize in the presence of adults and as far as 2 km from the nest (KS).

During the breeding period, vocalizations are associated with territorial displays and behaviors, copulation, nest-building, entering a nest, changing places during incubation, threatening or alarming situations, food deliveries, meeting or approaching a mate, coming into an evening roost, or in response to human intruders approaching a nest (392, 311, 389, 394, 393, 78, 399, 248, 2). Territory holders in central California vocalize throughout the nesting season, perhaps as communication with mates or neighboring pairs, and their vocalizations can help human surveyors to locate nests (P. Kolar, personal communication). Territorial individuals in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska, often vocalize when they detect intruding eagles in their territory, but it is not known if eagles vocalize to delineate a territory (CLM).

Has been observed to vocalize when hunting pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra americana) during winter in the Great Divide basin in Wyoming (308). The pronghorns became alarmed when eagles vocalized while circling over the herd. In these situations, eagles circled, vocalized, and flew away from the group of pronghorns just prior to the initiation of a chase (308). Wintering adults in eastern North America sometimes vocalize when feeding on carrion at baited capture stations most commonly in response to the presence of other eagles (TAM).

Nonvocal Sounds

During a stoop, noise is generated by air rushing over the body. This noise is often loud enough to be heard by nearby humans. It is not known if this sound has a role in communication, but it seems plausible given the nature of territorial flights by eagles (see Behavior: Agonistic Behavior).

Recommended Citation

Katzner, T. E., M. N. Kochert, K. Steenhof, C. L. McIntyre, E. H. Craig, and T. A. Miller (2020). Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), version 2.0. In Birds of the World (P. G. Rodewald and B. K. Keeney, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.goleag.02