Living Bird Magazine
Northern GoshawkAccipiter gentilis
- ORDER: Accipitriformes
- FAMILY: Accipitridae
The Northern Goshawk is the bigger, fiercer, wilder relative of the Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks that prowl suburbs and backyards. It’s an accipiter—a type of hawk with short, broad wings and a long rudderlike tail that give it superb aerial agility. These secretive birds are mostly gray with bold white “eyebrow” stripes over piercing orange to red eyes. Northern Goshawks flash through forests chasing bird and mammal prey, pouncing silently or crashing feet first through brush to grab quarry in crushingly strong talons.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Northern Goshawks are secretive birds that typically live in large tracts of forest, so they are hard to find. They are vocal near their nests, but they are also fiercely defensive and have been known to attack people who come too close to a nest—please think twice before you approach a calling bird. Remember that goshawks don’t typically occur in populated areas, so any accipiter that you see in town or near a bird feeder is more likely a large Cooper’s Hawk than a goshawk. Your best chance of finding a Northern Goshawk is to spend time in mature forest being as quiet, observant—and patient—as possible.
- Azor Común (Spanish)
- Autour des palombes (French)
- Cool Facts
- The name goshawk comes from the Old English word for “goose hawk,” a reference to this raptor’s habit of preying on birds. Falconers have trained goshawks for more than 2,000 years; the birds were once called “cook’s hawk” for their success at snaring meat for the pot.
- Like all accipiters, Northern Goshawks display “reversed sexual size dimorphism”—females are up to 25% heavier than males. The size difference means that between them, pair members can feed on a wider range of prey. When nesting, the larger female warms the eggs while the male is responsible for bringing food.
- The Northern Goshawk is found across northern America and Eurasia. Most of the Eurasian races have much more dark barring on the chest than the American form, but about half of all Siberian goshawks are nearly white.
- John James Audubon was impressed by the Northern Goshawk’s hunting prowess, writing “When the Passenger Pigeons are abundant in the western country, the Goshawk follows their close masses, and subsists upon them. A single Hawk suffices to spread the greatest terror among their ranks, and the moment he sweeps towards a flock, the whole immediately dive into the deepest woods, where, notwithstanding their great speed, the marauder Succeeds in clutching the fattest.”
- Northern Goshawk pairs build and maintain up to eight alternate nests within their nesting area. Even with options available, they may use the same nest year after year, or may switch to a new nest after a brood fails. Pairs may add fresh conifer needles to the nest during breeding. Aromatic chemicals (terpenes) in the needles may act as a natural insecticide and fungicide.
- The Northern Goshawk is well known for its fierce defense of its nest. It commonly attacks people and other animals that approach the nest too closely.
- Attila the Hun wore an image of a Northern Goshawk on his helmet.
- The oldest known Northern Goshawk was at least 17 years, 7 months old, when it was found in Michigan in 2013. It had been banded in the same state in 1995.