Hawk, Robin, and Wren

photo of an American Robin © Lang ElliottGiven that I’ve been working the theme of animals giving alarm calls in the presence of hawks, I can’t help but post the following recording that I made with the help of my friend Karen Edelstein.

Last July, Karen alerted me that immature Red-tailed Hawks were frequently perching and calling in the woods behind her house. So I showed up one morning, waited for about an hour, and then delighted in the arrival of a youngster who landed and screamed loudly from high in a tree. Within seconds, an American Robin started calling excitedly from nearby, giving it’s sharp peek and softer tut-tut-tut alarm calls, probably because it had a nest nearby. Another songbird responded as well; one can hear a male Carolina Wren giving cheer calls (down-slurred rattling trills) in the background. Listen also for the harsh nasal mews of a distant Gray Squirrel, possibly also upset by the presence of the hawk (although his calls may have been coincidental):

American Robin and Carolina Wren sounding off in response to a perched and calling immature Red-tailed Hawk. 10:30 am, 24 July 2010 near Ludlowville, New York. Recorded by Lang Elliott.

I rather like this recording. I think it’s a fairly straightforward example of songbirds responding with alarm calls in the presence of a potential predator, an aerial predator in this case. But can we be absolutely certain the robin and wren are calling because of the hawk? Seems likely for sure, but maybe the Robin and Wren were upset because I was standing nearby. And maybe the distant Gray Squirrel didn’t give a whit about me or the hawk. I say this because I’ve heard Gray Squirrels give mewing calls on many occasions when there was no obvious or immediate cause; for this reason, I’m always hesitant to label them “alarm calls”.

One must always be extra careful when inferring causation from correlation, especially when basing one’s claims on just one or two observations. It is all too easy to misinterpret what is going on.


  1. I too also hear calls from a Rose-Breasted Grosbeak and a White-Crowned or White-Throated Sparrow, and I also hear calls from a Black-Capped Chickadee. I would’ve never thought a Gray Squirrel would make such a sound.

  2. Notice that you can also hear the chink calls of a Rose-breasted Grossbeak, and either White-crowned or White-throated Sparrow alarm calls as well. I also think I might have heard the adult hawk way in the background though this may just be the Gray Squirrel.

  3. Is one difference between an immature and a mature hawk that one has learned not to announce his presence so audibly at the ‘buffet’?! Perhaps a few missed lunches ingrain the lesson. I think robins seem to bark when they alarm call like this. “Arf, arf, hie, away wi’ ye, arf!” I hope it worked for this one 😉

  4. How pleasant. I just clicked on the home page from the Catalyst theme showcase while sitting on my daughters bed on my laptop as the kids are falling asleep. I think I’ll just click on your website and let the baby listen to the sounds. Not enough websites use sound effectively. I need to reconsider my own use. thanks!

    • Sam – Glad you like old-miracle.mystagingwebsite.com. Stay tuned; in a few months I’ll be launching a series of nature soundscape titles for sale as digital downloads. You may be interested in playing them to your kids to help them fall asleep.

  5. Im intrigued by hearing the hawk I have not heard this vocalization. Thanks Lang, keep up the awesome work. Im so happy beth introduced you and your work to me. It really pyschs me up for being with all the creatures strugling to survive while we live a very easy life in comparison to them

  6. Yes, that’s why I pointed out that the robin could have been alarmed because of me, and not the hawk. Part of the lesson here is that the recording could be easily misinterpreted. I believe that I heard the robin calling before I approached the hawk, so I think the robin was alarmed over the hawk. But how do I know that for sure? Same goes for the wren. It cheer calls might have been all about me, and not about the hawk. I think not, but how can I know that for sure?

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