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RNorthern Goshawkaptors Rehab Refuge

"When I bestride him, I soar, I am a hawk."
Shakespeare, The Life of King Henry the Fifth

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Athena, Northern Goshawk

Athena, a female, had her wing rebuilt by Dr. Eaglefeather
Photo by Deb McKenzie

    Northern Goshawk
Accipiter Gentilis
Order: Falconiformes
Family: Accipitiridae
Genus: Accipiter

The largest of the
accipiters, or bird hawks, and the most widely distributed worldwide, the goshawk is a about the size of a red-tailed hawk. A resident of dense woodlands, the goshawk's diet is mostly small mammals, such as squirrels and rabbits, but they also take pigeons, pheasant and grouse, and are a leading predator of the crow.  Because they prey less on insect eating birds, they have not declined as much due to pesticide poisoning as their smaller cousin, the Cooper’s hawk.  In fact, they have spread south from the Canadian forests to take over cooper hawk territories in some areas.

Often used by falconers, goshawks will burst from cover to take prey. They are extremely daring, and will sometimes take domestic ducks, geese and chickens right in front of the farmer, which might partially explain why hawks in general have such a bad reputation. Accipiters, particulary the Goshawk, will also attack falcons, so falconers are wary of flying accipiters and falcons together.

Owls are the only raptors who nest earlier in the year than Goshawks. Courtship in New York begins in March, and is noisy and gymnastic, featuring circling, slow flapping of the wings, and gliding in a dihedral "V" shape with the male closely trailing the female.
Goshawks nest high in hardwood trees, in areas of the forest with open understories and scant ground vegetation.

The female will do most of the nest building, and the pair will maintain up to eight alternate nest sites in the general area. Goshawks will dive at and drive away people who approach their nest, with the larger female leading the attack.  The presence of "plucking logs", upon which goshawks pluck the feathers or fur from their prey often give away the vicinity of a goshawk's nest, and goshawks will cache prey during the brooding season, wedging it in branches near the nest. Goshawks prefer to nest not far from a permament source of water, preferably with a sloping beach to enable bathing.

The female lays three to four eggs, and incubates them for up to 38 days, continuing to brood the chicks until they are two weeks old, and thereafter only in cold, wet weather. Goshawk chicks fledge before they are 42 days old, and become independent within four to eight weeks, with male chicks striking out on their own earlier than females.

Being primarily forest predators, goshawks use concealment and surprise when attacking prey. Goshawks will perch briefly, look for motion on the forest floor below, and then fly to another perch, repeating the process. This behavior will combine with scouting while flying at the edge of the forest or flying low above dense vegetation. The goshawk is the only raptor which pursues its prey on the ground, killing it by the powerful clutching action of the talons, piercing the vital organs of its prey.

"Athena" collided with a tractor, while hunting rodents in a farmer's field in Crown Point. Goshawks, and accipiters generally, tend to be more nervous in captivity, and as Rehab patients, than are the Buteos, such as Red-Tailed Hawks, so please speak softly, move slowly, and give Athena space. Goshawks live up to about twenty years in the wild.

 Gary Berke and Steve Hall


Athena, photo by Deb McKenzie

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