Northern Goshawk (Accipter gentilis)

The Raptor Foundation

The English name derives from the Anglo-Saxon for "Goose Hawk". The scientific name was given during the middle ages when only noblemen were allowed to fly them. "Accipiter" is Latin for hawk & "gentilis" comes from the Old French "gentil" meaning noble (which is where the English words Gentleman & Gentry are derived & ultimately from the Latin "gentilis"), so the scientific name means "Nobleman's Hawk".

Goshawks are widely distributed throughouth the northern hemisphere, in Europe, Russia, North America & Canada. They are strictly woodland birds. Once primarily living in deciduous forests, they are now adapting to the extensive man-made conifer plantations, where game-breeding is rare. The population both in the UK & the US appears to be on the decline. In the US they are classified as a "Species Of Federal Concern".

The Northern Goshawk is the largest of the "True Hawks". The Goshawk became extinct in this country in the late 19th century, due to illegal killing & habitat loss. Goshawks were unofficially reintroduced into the country from 1950's by falconers, both as escapees & deliberate releases, it is believed over 250 birds were released into the wild during the 1970's. The estimated UK population in 1996 was 400-450 pairs. The main risk to Goshawks is still illegal killing, often to protect game birds, so that rich people can shoot them. Despite the belief that Goshawks have a significant effect on game bird populations, studies have shown that they will take pigeons & other birds in preference & actually kill very few game birds. The Goshawk is a species protected by special penalties in the UK, if kept in captivity, it must be ringed & registered.

Goshawks are very similar in appearance to sparrowhawks, though larger. It is not unusual for a male goshawk to be mistaken for a female sparrowhawk. As well as being bigger, Goshawks are more sturdily built, with more powerful legs & feet, giving them the ability to catch mammals heavier than themselves.

Goshawks prey on medium size to large birds & mammals. The birds range in size from starlings & pigeons to grouse. Mammals range in size from rats & young rabbits to hares & even foxes. It has been observed that individual birds may show a preference for one type of prey. Prey is taken out of the air, on the ground or even out of the trees. They usually fly directly at the prey in rapid flight, but occassionally will use available cover, such as hedges, to take the prey by suprise. Goshawks are capable of incredible bursts of speed when chasing prey. In powered flight, Goshawks take several strong, stiff wingbeats, followed by a short glide. The short wings & manouevrable tail enable the bird to rapidly turn & brake, in pursuit of its prey. Despite this excellent manoeuvrability, goshawks often injure themselves while chasing their prey. They are totally focused on their prey & collide with obstacles in their way. Fortunately, this rarely results in death. Once the goshawk has caught its prey, it will usually return to a favourite perch & pluck the prey before eating it. Quite often, the entrails will also be removed first.

In courtship, the female attracts the male by perching near a suitable nesting site & calling. The male will either build a new nest or rennovate & old one. Old nests are regularly reused by a succession of different pairs of Goshawk. The nests are usually high up & under good cover of a canopy of leaves, giving protection from predators (e.g. Great Grey Owls, Pine Martens & wolverines, in the US) & the weather. (One source suggests mating takes place from the start of nest building & through much of the incubation period, often up to 10 times daily.) Up to five eggs are laid, with 1 or 2 days between each, generally starting in late April. Incubation properly starts after the last egg has been laid. Incubation is only done by the female & lasts for around 5 weeks. The young all hatch at around the same time. Once hatched, the female will vigourously defend the nest, they have been known to attack humans. The young sprout feathers at around 18 days, by 28 days they can feed themselves, they are fully feathered by 38 days & can fly a week later. Up to the stage of feeding themselves, the male does not often approach the nest, leaving the food a short distance away & calling to the female to collect it. The young males are smaller & lighter than the females & often fly much earlier them. It takes around 10 weeks from the first flight for the young to become totally independent.

The Goshawk is popular bird in falconry, being regarded by some as the ultimate hunting bird. In general, they are difficult to train & require daily manning otherwise they lose their training very quickly. Goshawks can be nervous temperament & prone to tantrums, so are really only suitable for very experienced falconers, many are lost due to inexperience (these are some of the ones adding to the wild population).

The oldest Goshawk on record from a European ringing study was 18yrs 9months old.

Collective Noun

A Flight of Goshawks

IUCN Red List Status :

Least Concern (LC)

AOU Data :

Species Number : 334.0
Alpha Code : NOGO
Common Name : Northern Goshawk
Longevity Record : 16yrs 4months

Also Called :

Eastern Goshawk
Goose Hawk
Star Hawk
Great Hawk
Pigeon Hawk (also used for sparrowhawk & (in US) merlin)
Gwalch marth
Hebog marthin
Scottish Glas sheabhag
Irish Spioróg mhór
Catalan Astor
Danish Duehøg
Dutch Havik
Esperanto Aksipitro
Estonian Kanakull
Færoese Høsnaheykur
Finnish Kanahaukka
French Autour des Palombes (Pigeon Hawk)
Habicht (Hawk)
Hühnerhabict (Fowl Hawk)
Greek Αιπλοσάινο
Hungarian Héja
Icelandic Gáshaukur
Italian Astore
Lappish (Sami) Cuonjáfálli
Vistu Vanags
Lithuanian Vištvanagis
Norwegian Hønsehauk
Polish Jastrząb
Portuguese Açor
Russian Тетеревятник (Teterevyatnik)
Spanish Azor
Azor Común
Swedish Duvhök
Inupiaq (Alaskan Eskimo) Kirgavik (also used for Peregrine)
cang ying (Blue Hawk)
huang ying (Yellow Hawk)
ji ying (Chicken Hawk)
ya ying (Bud Hawk)
Japanese oo taka (Large Hawk)
Vietnamese úng lóng (Large Hawk)

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