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Northern Goshawk

Accipiter gentilis ORDER: ACCIPITRIFORMES FAMILY: ACCIPITRIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

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.

Keys to identification Help

Hawks
Hawks
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Northern Goshawk are large hawks and the largest and bulkiest of the accipiters. They have broad, rounded wings and long tails. Relatively long secondary flight feathers give the trailing edge of the wing a curved or bulging look; the wingtips can look pointed in flight.

  • Color Pattern

    Adult goshawks are dark slate gray above with pale gray barred underparts. They have a dark head with a wide white stripe over the eye; the eye is orange to red. Immatures are brown and streaky, with narrow dark bands in the tail. They have an indistinct pale eyebrow stripe and yellow eyes. Females are larger than males.

  • Behavior

    Goshawks are stealthy predators that watch for prey on high perches and then attack with quick, agile flight, even through dense trees or cluttered understory. They fly with a few relatively slow wingbeats interspersed with short glides.

  • Habitat

    Goshawks are birds of wild forests and tend to occur in large tracts. Across much of their range they live mainly in coniferous forests, but they may occur in deciduous hardwood forest as well (such as in the northeastern U.S.).

Range Map Help

Northern Goshawk Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult

    Northern Goshawk

    Adult
    • Large, barrel-chested accipiter
    • Adults slaty gray above, paler on breast with dense barring
    • Frosty white eyebrow contrasts with black crown and cheek patches
    • © Extrud, June 2013
  • Adult

    Northern Goshawk

    Adult
    • Large, frosty gray accipiter
    • More buteo-like than other accipiters because of large size and bulky structure
    • Dense barring on otherwise pale-gray breast
    • Bold white eyebrow and glaring red eye on adults
    • © Ronald Kube, Alberta, Canada, May 2009
  • Immature

    Northern Goshawk

    Immature
    • Large, bulky accipiter
    • Heavily streaked with thick, blotchy markings from breast to undertail
    • Barrel-chested
    • Uneven tail bands
    • © Raymond Lee, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, December 2010
  • Immature

    Northern Goshawk

    Immature
    • Large and barrel-chested for an accipiter
    • Very heavily marked below with thick, smudged streaks
    • Uneven tail bands
    • © Alex Rptr, Mt. Pinos , California, August 2011

Similar Species

  • Gray morph

    Gyrfalcon

    Gray morph
    • Wings longer, more pointed than Northern Goshawk
    • Dark mustache stripe
    • Barring on tail not obvious
    • © Raymond Lee, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, February 2012
  • Immature

    Cooper's Hawk

    Immature
    • Smaller and lankier than Northern Goshawk
    • Breast streaking not as heavy and dense
    • Tail bands more evenly spaced
    • © Gerry Dewaghe , October 2008

Similar Species

Cooper’s Hawks tend to be smaller than Northern Goshawks, although small male goshawks can be nearly the same size as female Cooper’s Hawks, and size can be difficult to estimate when looking at a single bird on its own. Goshawks tend to avoid settled areas, so any accipiter seen around a backyard is much more likely to be a Cooper’s Hawk. Adult Cooper’s Hawks (and Sharp-shinned Hawks, which are even smaller) have reddish barring on the underparts, unlike the goshawk’s fine gray barring. Immature Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned are less bulky birds with wings that are narrower and less pointed than Northern Goshawks. These smaller species also lack the faint eyebrow stripe of an immature goshawk. Immature buteos such as the Broad-winged Hawk and Red-shouldered Hawk can closely resemble immature goshawks, but their shape should give them away, particularly the much shorter tail.

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.

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