Raptor Identification

Accipiter atricapillus

American Goshawk

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern
Raptor Population Index Assessment: 46% of sites declining
Conservation Concerns: Habitat Degradation, Contaminants
Group: Accipiter (Forest Hawk)
Size: L 18-24″ / WS 38-45″


The American Goshawk is the largest and scarcest of the North American accipiters, making it sought after by birders. They nest in coniferous forests 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. The Goshawk is notoriously aggressive toward intruders near their nest and defends them relentlessly and loudly! Biologists conducting nest research are wary, wear protective gear, or face bloody consequences.

Unlike the other accipiters, the 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. The 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 the Red-tailed Hawk, but males are not much larger than female Cooper’s Hawk.


  • Perched, it has broad shoulders and appears small-headed
  • The tail is very long, and wing tips fall well short of the tail tip
  • The tail is very long and fairly broad, and the tip can be rounded, wedged, or squared
  • A broad chest gives a powerful profile
  • Broad wings with tapered hands, appearing stocky in a soar and more falcon-like in a glide


  • Steady and powerful in flight
  • Soar on flat wings in wide circles, glide with wings slightly drooped
  • Wingbeats are less stiff and more elevated than Cooper’s Hawk, which sometimes appears buteo-like
    • Smaller Goshawks flap fairly quickly, however


  • Two age classes, adult and juvenile
    • Adult is pale whitish-gray below with faint, black barring on the underbody
      • Topside is blue-gray with a black head and bold white eye-line
      • 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
      • Topside is brown with pale mottling along the upperwing coverts that forms a narrow “bar”
      • Broad, whitish eye-line
    • Eye is yellow, slowly becoming red after a few years

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