IUCNConservation 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
Looking for more?
Download our FREE app for nearly 1,000 annotated photos, range maps, vocalizations, and narrated identification videos geared toward helping you identify raptors in flight.