Northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis)

Also known as: Eurasian goshawk, goshawk
French: Autour des palombes
GenusAccipiter (1)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

A large and powerful bird of prey, the northern goshawk was traditionally revered as a symbol of strength. It possesses short, robust wings that enable rapid acceleration, and a long tail, which provides excellent manoeuvrability while flying between trees (4). The adult plumage is brownish-grey to slate grey above, with a black cap on the head and a distinctive white stripe above the reddish-orange eyes (2) (4). The underparts are light grey with fine horizontal barring on the breast, and small, black, vertical streaks on the throat (4). The adult female is considerably larger than the male, with browner upperparts and coarser markings on the breast, while the juvenile is brown above and pale buff to whitish below, with heavy streaking. The northern goshawk exhibits a high degree of geographical variation, with eight subspecies currently recognised, separated by size, colouration and plumage patterning (2).

The northern goshawk has an extremely large range, extending throughout much of North America, Europe and northern Asia. In the Old World, this species can be found from Britain, east to Japan, with its northern breeding limits reaching as far as northern Sweden and north-east Siberia. Its southern breeding limits extend to central China in the east of its range and extreme north-west Africa in the west, but vagrant individuals may be found in a number of other locations, such as the United Arab Emirates. In the New World, the northern goshawk is found in western Canada, south to Tennessee and southern Arizona in the U.S.A., and Jalisco in western Mexico. While the majority of northern goshawk populations remain resident throughout the year, the northernmost populations make seasonal southward migrations to the Himalayas, northern Indochina, central Europe and central Asia (2).

The northern goshawk inhabits mature woodland, both coniferous and deciduous, from lowlands into mountainous, subalpine areas. It particularly favours woodland edges that border open areas, and sometimes occurs in town parks (2).

The northern goshawk takes a variety of small and medium-sized birds and mammals, up to the size of a grouse or hare (2). It usually hunts from a well-concealed perch, remaining briefly at one spot before making a short flight to another; although it may also make survey flights along forest edges and over clearings. Once prey is spotted, the northern goshawk swoops down, sometimes crashing through vegetation, before driving its talons into its victim and killing it with a kneading motion (2) (4).

The northern goshawk is not a social species, and during the breeding season the nests of breeding pairs are usually found over one kilometre apart. Between April and early May, the female lays a clutch of one to five eggs in a nest of sticks lined with twigs and leaves, situated high in a tree. The eggs are incubated by the female for 35 to 38 days, while the male supplies food (2). Once hatched, the male continues to provide food, while the female defends the nest aggressively, even attacking approaching humans (2) (4). Fledging occurs after around 34 to 41 days, but the young do not become independent until 70 to 90 days old. The northern goshawk usually reaches sexual maturity at two to three years of age, and has been known to live for up to 19 years (2).

With a relatively large population and expansive range, there is little threat to the northern goshawk’s survival at present. In Europe, this species suffered a significant historical decline due to persecution and deforestation claiming its habitat. Further losses were also incurred throughout Western Europe as a result of pollution by pesticides and heavy metals. Despite changing attitudes towards birds of prey, persecution still continues in some areas, as well as nest-robbing for falconry (2).

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is currently working to prevent ongoing illegal persecution of the northern goshawk and other birds of prey in the United Kingdom (5).This species is also benefiting from reforestation efforts that are occurring in many parts of this its range (2).

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  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2014)