THE GOSHAWK--Accipiter gentilis

The goshawk is a medium to large bird of prey belonging to the Accipitridae Family and the Order Falconiformes; However, some bird books  still place them in the Order Accipitriformes. In this latter format there are five families world wide including the Falconidae {falcons} Panonidae {ospreys} and Accipitridae { hawks and eagles}. There are over 300 species world wide in these five families of which 26 occur in Britain. 

The goshawk is a widespread species that may be encountered in most regions of Europe, most of Asia and north America. In north America is it is referred to as the northern goshawk. The name derives from the old English goshafoc  meaning goosehawk probably due to its size. The genus name of Accipiter {hawk} derives from accipere to grasp. The species name of gentilis indicates noble. 

The goshawk is a fearsome predator.

Description of the goshawk.

The goshawk is the largest member of the genus. The length of the male being 49-5 7cm {19-22"} with a wingspan 93-105 cm {37-41"}. The much larger female is 58-64 cm {23-25"} with a wingspan of 108-127 cm {42-50"}. The female weighs 1600-1900g, the male weighs 700-900g.

The body of the male is blue grey above and barred grey below. The female is slate grey above greyish below. The wings are broad and rounded, the tail long, often glimpsed dashing after prey. Both sexes have strongly barred under parts, white feathers at the tail base are conspicuous, especially during mating display when they tend to be fluffed out. 

The bird has a prominent pale supercillium { eye stripe} above the bright yellow/orange eye, this along with the dark cheeks give the bird a hooded appearance. The bill is hooked the cere is yellow. The legs are yellow and the long toes are armed with strong black talons.

In relation to its body size the wings are medium length, the tail is medium long, neck short, bill medium/short, legs medium and tail appears very broad when soaring. They are very similar in appearance to a female sparrowhawk, but they are bulkier and longer than the latter species.

The goshawk is adept at hunting in dense forests, but the chase is rather shorter than the one taken by its smaller relative the sparrowhawk. The goshawk tends to give up the chase much easier than the former species.

Because they are opportunist hunters the prey varies greatly depending on the situation They tend to take pigeons and doves. They love to inhabit undisturbed tracts of forest, usually by farmland, which attracts the pigeons to the vicinity. Other prey includes pheasants, grouse and other large species of birds, but also mammals including squirrels, rabbits and hares.

When feeding its mate or young the male tends to take its pry to a favourite plucking post, this may be a tree stump, a thick horizontal branch or an old nest with a good selection of flight paths to and from it. The only enemy of this large hawk is man ! 

Goshawks are at home in dense woodland

Goshawk, breeding and young

Early morning , during , late March and early April ,one may be lucky enough to observe a goshawk circling or gliding above its territory, prior to nest building commences. Goshawks make a large nest of loose twigs, with a deep cup, sited in the fork of a tree. A new nest is made each year, although they may re-use old foundations. The interior is often lines with leaves. Both birds partake in its construction, it is located 20 metres or more above the ground.

The eggs are white with a strong green tinge. Four is the usual number completing the clutch and are laid towards the end of April or early May.

The incubation period is 35-38 days. In the main , this duty is carried out by the female, with occasional help from the male. The young fledge at around 35-40 days. They are cared for by the parents for a further six weeks or so before they become independent.

Goshawks tend to pair for life. Studies have revealed that females take a week longer to leave the nest than their male counterparts. 

Juvenile goshawk

Goshawk about to take off.

Conservation issues

In Britain the goshawk became extinct in the 19th century, this was due to egg collectors and persecution by game keepers. Birds have escaped from falconers' birds that have been re-introduced and some natural immigration, has seen goshawks once again breeding in Britain. However, despite being fully protected by law  { They are Schedule 1 species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 } persecution is still known to occur.

They reappeared in the vast Kielder Forest in Northumberland { North East  England}. The forest is owned by the Forestry Commission, who's staff monitor the birds, which includes ringing, weighing and measuring the birds. More recently, also taken are DNA samples, The current assessment is that the population at Kielder is stable.

Goshawks are now relatively widespread but still scarce. Populations occur in Wales, the Peak District, the Pennines and the Scottish borders. It is estimated that there are currently 300+ pairs in the UK.

There are no current priority concerns. In Britain the whereabouts of the nest sites are usually kept secret. 


May 2012--goshawk persecution in the Peak District.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and Severn Trent Water, have expressed outrage at the deliberate destruction of the nest of a goshawk { one of our rarest birds of prey} . The RSPB is offering a £1000 reward for information that leads to a conviction. the offence is the latest in a long line of attacks on birds of prey in the Peak District. It leaves only one active goshawk nest  in the entire Derwent valley which previously held six pairs of these birds.

UK Conservation 2021

UK-Green list-No current concerns 

Europe-Species of least concern. 

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