Juvenile Hawks Cry Wolf

Juvenile red-tailed hawks in Schenley Park (photo by Jim Funderburgh)
Juvenile red-tailed hawks in Schenley Park, 2019 (photo by Jim Funderburgh)

28 July 2021

Have you heard this pathetic sound recently?

If you track it down you’ll find a young red-tailed hawk, possibly on the ground, calling as if it is in distress. There may be two of them walking around, jumping down from a perch, looking at their feet, and making the most heart-rending sounds. Despite their tone these juvenile hawks are not hurt. They are crying wolf.

In late July young red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) in southwestern Pennsylvania have been out of the nest for four to eight weeks. Their parents have taught them everything they need to know about capturing and killing prey but they lack experience. To gain it their parents drop them off at a fertile hunting ground and leave for the day. Their parents will return with food, but not right away.

Left alone the youngsters play at catching prey (video below) and progress from hunting insects and invertebrates to capturing small mammals. It takes weeks to make this kind of progress and they won’t do it if their parents are nearby.

Juvenile red-tailed hawks in Schenley Park, 2019 (photo by Jim Funderburgh)

Like any kids, they get impatient when it goes slowly and whine as loudly as possible. Sometimes they perch prominently to do it. “Come back! I want food now!”

Don’t worry when you hear or see a “distressed” juvenile red-tailed hawk. It’s crying wolf.

(photos and video of two hawks by Jim Funderburgh, video of one hawk by Christopher Booth on YouTube)

9 thoughts on “Juvenile Hawks Cry Wolf

  1. Thank goodness I found this information. I’ve been so concerned with 2 fledgling Red-Tailed Hawks in my backyard for 3 days, doing just that.
    Thank you.

  2. Thank you so much for posting this article!! I couldn’t for the love of God figure out what that annoying sound was coming from !! I’m used to adult hawks who have a different and much more pleasant sound. Your article finally let us know where and why we were hearing this all day!!!

  3. Thank you for this info! I went looking in the woods behind my house to see what bird was in such distress. The cries were breaking my heart! I couldn’t find the bird (the sounds carried further than I could travel into the brush) but I remembered that I see a lot of hawks in that vicinity & jumped online to find more info. They sound exactly like the ones in the videos you posted. Grateful to learn something new from your website…thanks again!

  4. Thank you for this info. I have been so worried about a juvenile red tail on our property. His cries are heart wrenching for a Mom. This red tail needs alot of practice catching his food.

  5. We’ve had a family of 4 red tails at my office since 2nd week of June, and now I’m only seeing one or maybe two during the day. The juvenile has been crying relentlessly ALL.DAY.LONG. Seeing as we’ve had consistent triple-digit highs and zero rain for over a month, I was really worried about the babies! But alas, I may now rest peacefully knowing it’s just a child throwing a temper tantrum. Thanks for the info!

  6. Great info. I’ve got these juveniles screeching all day long the past 2 or 3 weeks in Brecksville Ohio. However, when you say “they are crying wolf,” is that to get mom or dad to come back and get them? Thanks again.

    1. I refreshed my memory: “Crying wolf” means calling for help when help is not needed and, if repeated too often, one is not believed when one really does need help. In the case of juvenile red-tailed hawks, their begging is “crying wolf” because they are capable of hunting for themselves. They would rather their parents do all the hard work.

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