The goshawk is a popular choice among European falconers
Goshawk Scientific Classification
- Scientific Name
- Accipiter gentilis
Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.
Goshawk Conservation Status
- Hares, squirrels, grouse, pigeons, doves, crows, and others
- Fun Fact
- The goshawk is a popular choice among European falconers
- Estimated Population Size
- Biggest Threat
- Habitat loss
- Most Distinctive Feature
- The barred or striped breast
- Other Name(s)
- 76-121cm (30-48in)
- Incubation Period
- A month
- Woodlands and forests
- Owls, wolves, hawks, eagles, and martens
- Common Name
- Number Of Species
- Average Clutch Size
- Nesting Location
- Age of Molting
- 1-2 months
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The goshawk is among the most common birds of prey around the world.
Goshawk may refer to more than a dozen different species, most of them a member of the genus Accipiter. The most popular and well-known species is the northern goshawk, which can be found across the Northern Hemisphere. Unless otherwise mentioned, this article will be referring to the northern goshawk. They are very fast and agile flyers that maneuver through the tree cover with incredible talent.
3 Goshawk Amazing Facts
- The goshawk is fraught with symbolism in many different cultures. It is most commonly associated with symbolisms of strength and ferocity. Attila the Hun, who once terrorized the Roman Empire, chose the goshawk as his totem animal. Today it is still a major source of symbolism in the country of North Korea. The flag of the Azores (which might have been named after the Portuguese name for the bird) still bears the image of a golden goshawk.
- The northern goshawk was a very popular choice for falconers (meaning bird trainers) in the Middle Ages. It was once reserved almost exclusively for the clergy. These birds would be trained to hunt on command.
- The courtship rituals of the goshawk involve dramatic aerial flying and loud calls.
Where to Find the Goshawk
Goshawks are found in wooded and forested ranges all over the world. Africa, Eurasia, and the Americas are all home to various species. Many are found on small islands throughout the Pacific as well. They tend to remain near the same territorial ranges every year.
Many goshawks tend to make their nests in medium to large trees. The nest consists of twigs, leaves or needles, and tree bark.
The true goshawk belongs to the genus Accipiter. This is the Latin name for the hawk or the bird of prey in general. Goshawks are closely related to the sparrowhawks and other hawks within the same genus. The main difference between goshawks and sparrowhawks comes down to their size. Goshawks tend to be larger than sparrowhawks (which, as the name suggests, are known to feed heavily on sparrows).
Size, Appearance, and Behavior
The goshawk is a fairly large bird, measuring some 1 to 2 feet long from head to tail. Many species are characterized by dark brown, grey, or black plumage along the wings and back. They also have white plumage on the breast and stomach with red or brown horizontal markings, stripes, or bars. Other prominent features include the sharp, hooked bill, square tail, and yellow or orange eyes. Some species have a large crest on feathers on the top of the head as well. Females tend to be slightly larger than males on average, but otherwise the sexes are fairly similar. Northern goshawks are considered to be among the largest types of goshawks; they can be identified by the distinctive white band of feathers above the eye.
Goshawks are territorial birds that spend most of their lives alone or with a mate. Adults tend not to vocalize very much outside of the breeding season, but females have deeper and louder voices, while males tend to have higher, weaker calls. They are very aggressive in the defense of their territorial range, which provides both hunting and mating opportunities throughout the year.
Goshawks belong to the genus Accipiter, which includes sparrowhawks. The genus itself contains 51 species. Hence, it is the most diverse among those found in the larger family which consists of birds of prey of every size and is known as Accipitridae.
As a result, goshawks are related to eagles, hawks, harriers, kites, and even vultures. The earliest ancestors of this large group first emerged during the Early Eocene, about 50 million years ago. Evidence suggests that they had spread all over the globe about 25 million years later, with a range which might have included Antarctica.
There are ten subspecies of goshawk, including the following:
- Accipiter gentilis gentilis: The nominate subspecies, it can be found in North Africa, Eurasia, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Russia. It is capable of reaching a maximum weight of 4.85 lbs.
- Accipiter gentilis albidus: This subspecies which is the palest of them all, can be found in Siberia and Kamchatka. Its maximum recorded weight is 3.86 lbs.
- Accipiter gentilis apache: The range of this subspecies includes southern Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico. It is noted for having darker plumage compared to its American relatives and having a maximum weight of 2.218 lbs.
- Accipiter gentilis arrigonii: This subspecies is found on Sardinia and Corsica. It is smaller in general compared to its other relatives and has a maximum length of 13.7 inches.
- Accipiter gentilis atricapillus: This subspecies lives in North America. Especially large specimens can be found in Alaska. Its maximum recorded weight is 3.44 lbs.
Migration Pattern and Timing
Most goshawks (particularly from tropical regions) spend most of the year in the same place, but northern populations do tend to travel south for the winter.
Goshawks are carnivorous birds. When out on the hunt, they prefer to reside on a tall perch from which they can survey the surrounding territory. When they spot prey, the goshawk will glide down and kill it. They are also known to pursue their prey on foot.
What does the goshawk eat?
The diet of the goshawk normally consists of hares, squirrels, lizards, grouse, pigeons, doves, crows, and many other types of animals, both large and small. Young juveniles tend to consume insects and small vertebrates.
Predators, Threats, and Conservation Status
Most species of goshawks (including the very well-known northern goshawk) are classified as species of least concern by the IUCN Redlist, but some are also near threatened and vulnerable. Threats include hunting, habitat destruction, and accidents. Logging has had a particularly large impact on this bird. They are protected in the US by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
What eats the goshawk?
An adult goshawk has very few predators in the wild. Owls, wolves, hawks, eagles, and martens will sometimes feed on nestlings and juveniles when there is little other food available.
Reproduction, Young, and Molting
Goshawk reproduction season can vary throughout the year. Northern goshawks in particular breed once per year between April and June. Mating pairs begin to prepare the nest up to two months in advance. They have very low rates of infidelity and copulate with the same mate some 500 to 600 times to produce a single clutch. This clutch only consists of about two to five eggs per season. The female is responsible for most of the incubation duties, but the male will sometimes take over for her and allow her to hunt.
After about a month, the chicks will hatch from the eggs with their down feathers attached. Females will continue to provide care for them, while the male will hunt and provide food. The juveniles will tend to leave the nest about 30 to 50 days after hatching. Mortality rates are very high in the first year; many don’t survive into adulthood. It can take up to three years overall to reach full sexual maturity. The lifespan in the wild is thought to be at least 11 years old, but the maximum age in captivity is some 27 years old for the northern goshawk.
Population numbers can vary dramatically by species. According to the IUCN Red List, there are between a million and 2.5 million mature northern goshawks remain in the wild. At the other end of the spectrum, there are only a few thousand mature slaty-backed goshawks remaining on a small Pacific island off the coast of Papua New Guinea.
Full List of Goshawk Subspecies
- Accipiter gentilis albidus
- Accipiter gentilis apache
- Accipiter gentilis arrigonii
- Accipiter gentilis atricapillus
- Accipiter gentilis buteoides
- Accipiter gentilis fujiyamae
- Accipiter gentilis gentilis
- Accipiter gentilis laingi
- Accipiter gentilis marginatus
- Accipiter gentilis schvedowi
Goshawk FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Does the goshawk migrate?
Northern populations do migrate for the winter in response to the cold weather.
How many eggs does the goshawk lay?
Many goshawks lay up to four or five eggs per season.
How fast does the goshawk fly?
The goshawk has a normal flight speed of about 40 miles per hour, but when diving down, they can potentially reach much faster speeds.
What is the goshawk’s wingspan?
The northern goshawk has a wingspan reaching up to 4 feet long, but some species are considerably smaller.
When do goshawks leave the nest?
They start to leave a nest after about a month of hatching.
Are there goshawks in the United States?
Yes, the northern goshawk is very common throughout most of the United States, except perhaps for the southeast. They are particularly common in New England and the western states, where they reside just about all year round.
Where are goshawks found?
They are found in woods and forests, which provide protection and cover.
Are there goshawks in the UK?
The northern goshawk can be found in the United Kingdom. The species actually went extinct in the 19th century, but it was reintroduced in the 1960s. There are now an estimated 430 pairs in the country.
Why is it called goshawk?
The name goshawk comes from the Old English term for goose hawk. It is not entirely clear how this name originated, because it rarely hunts geese. Perhaps it came from the grey and white color scheme of the goshawk.
How do you pronounce goshawk?
It is pronounced simply as gos (rhyming with moss or loss) and hawk (rhyming with talk).
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- , Available here: https://www.discoverwildlife.com/animal-facts/birds/facts-about-goshawk/
- , Available here: https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Accipiter_gentilis/