JoAnn McGee –

University of Minnesota
75 East River Parkway
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States

Christopher Feist
Christopher Milliren
Lori Arent
Julia B. Ponder
Peggy Nelson
Edward J. Walsh

Popular version of 3aABb4 – Behavioral responses of bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) to acoustic stimuli in a laboratory setting
Presented at the 184 ASA Meeting
Read the abstract at
Please keep in mind that the research described in this Lay Language Paper may not have yet been peer reviewed.

The ultimate goal of this project is to protect eagles by discouraging these charismatic birds from entering the airspace of wind energy facilities. The specific question under consideration centers on whether or not an acoustic cue, a sound, can be used for that purpose, to steer eagles away from harm’s way. Our specific goal in this particular study was to take the next step along our overall research path and determine if behaviors of bald eagles in particular were affected by different sound stimuli in a controlled laboratory environment.

Perhaps to be expected, behavioral responses varied significantly. Some birds explored their immediate airspace avidly, while others exhibited a more restrained set of behavioral responses to sound stimulation.

To get a feeling for the task, consider the reaction of this eagle to a sound stimulus in a quiet laboratory setting .

To collect these data, a bird was placed in a sound-damped room and the experiment was conducted from a control center just outside the exposure space. Birds were videotaped as sounds were delivered to one of two speakers and a group of unbiased judges was asked to determine (1) whether the bird responded to the sound based on its behavior, (2) to qualitatively assess the strength of the response, and (3) to identify the behaviors associated with the response. Twelve sounds were tested and judges were instructed to observe the eagle during a specified time window without knowing which sound, if any, had been played. Spectrograms of the sounds tested are shown in the figure.

By far the most common response was an attempt to localize the sound source based on head turning toward a speaker, although birds also frequently tilted their heads in response to stimuli. Females were slightly more responsive to sound stimuli than males, and not surprisingly, stimuli that elicited a higher number of responses also elicited stronger or more evident responses. Complex and natural sounds, for example, sounds produced by eagles, eaglets and pesky mobbing crow sounds, elicited more and stronger responses than man-made stimuli. Generally, bald eagles were fairly accurate in locating the direction that the sound originated, and, as before, females performed better than males.

The results from this study provide a critical step in an effort to protect eagles as we move away from the use of fossil fuels and rely more on wind power. We come away from this study with a better understanding of the types of sound signals that elicit more and stronger responses in bald eagles, and with the confidence that we will be able to objectively assess behavioral responses in more natural settings. We now know what these magnificent birds can hear, and we know that certain sound stimuli are more effective than others in evoking behavioral responses, taking us one step closer to our ultimate goal, to save bald eagles from undesirable outcomes and to give wind facility developers the tools needed to manage their facilities in an even more eco-friendly manner.

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