Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawk

Accipiter gentilis
L 18-24" / WS 38-45"

Northern Goshawk is the largest and scarcest of the North American accipiters, making it sought after by birders. They nest in coniferous forest across northern North America. Although they are typically not seen south of Pennsylvania during summer, they nest throughout the mountainous areas of the western states and into Mexico. Even though widespread they are never dense. Goshawk is notoriously aggressive toward intruders near their nest, and defend them relentlessly and loudly! Biologists conducting nest research are wary and wear protective gear or face bloody consequences.

Unlike the other accipiters, Goshawk eats mammals (including squirrels and hares) equally as much as birds (i.e. flickers, jays, Grouse, Ptarmigan). They are seldom encountered except at a few hawk migration sites. Goshawk moves south into the Lower 48 and US-Canada border region in numbers roughly every ten years in response to prey population cycles. They can be seen in semi-open areas in winter but are still secretive. They are vocal, emitting a loud, screaming "Kak-Kak-Kak...", slower, louder, and deeper than Cooper's Hawk. Females approach the size and bulk of Red-tailed Hawk, but males not much larger than female Cooper's Hawk.

Shape

  • Perched, has broad shoulders so appears small-headed. Tail is very long and wing tips fall well short of tail tip.
  • Broad wings with tapered hands, appearing stocky in a soar and more falcon-like in a glide. Male more tapered wings than female, especially adults.
  • Tail is very long and fairly broad, tip can be rounded, wedged, or squared.
  • Broad chest gives a powerful profile.

Flight

  • Steady and powerful in flight.
  • Wing beats are less stiff and more elevated than similar Cooper's Hawk, appearing buteo-like at times. Smaller Goshawks flap fairly quickly though.
  • Soar on flat wings in wide circles, glide with wings slightly drooped.

Plumage

  • Two age classes, adult and juvenile.
  • Adult is pale whitish-gray below with faint, black barring on underbody. Topside is blue-gray with black head and bold white eye-line. Adult males are often bluer above than females. Eye is dark red.
  • Juvenile is whitish below with extensive dark streaking throughout, even on the undertail coverts. A few are lightly streaked. Upperside is brown with pale mottling along the upperwing coverts that forms a narrow "bar." Juvenile also has broad, whitish eye-line. Eye is yellow slowly becoming red after a few years.

Migration

  • Some year-round residents (especially adults), but many migrate south.
  • Migration mainly from February to May in spring, and October to December in fall.
  • In eastern U.S. Goshawk invades roughly every ten years, when large numbers pass hawk watches in fall. Hawk Ridge, MN, sees biggest flights in N.A. Goshute Mts., NV, also a significant site for Goshawk.
  • In spring, southern shores of the Great Lakes is best location to see Goshawks.
  • Invasion years can bring thousands past Hawk Ridge, such as 1972 (4,963), 1982 (5,819), 1992 (2,040), 2000 (1,101), and 2001 (1,107).

 Distribution

(Map from Cornell Lab of Ornithology's All About Birds. For dynamic distribution maps, visit the eBird website.)

Goshawk map