NORTHERN GOSHAWK – (Accipiter gentilis)
The Northern Goshawk is a fearsome bird of prey that pursues its targets for a long distance if needed. It has a long tail and short wings that allow it to skillfully maneuver into the canopy, and can crash through shrubs to seize a prey in its powerful talons. As for other predatory birds, females can be up to 25% larger than males, for an average of 65 cm (26 in.) long.
The upper parts are grey-blue and there’s a dark grey cap in adults, with a white eyebrow. The eyes are dark orange-red in adults, and yellow in juveniles. Adults have finely barred light grey under parts. Juveniles have brown vertical streaks on light grey under parts, and their upper parts are brown with white spots and edges. The bill is grey and the talons are yellow.
The juveniles’ color pattern can make it difficult to distinguish them from juveniles of other species such as the Sharp-shinned Hawk. The goshawk is less common and hides in mature forests, and hunts along the edges. It will have a ‘plucking’ spot where it eats it prey, but not completely as with Great horned owls for example.
The English name comes from ‘Goose Hawk’, due to its reputation as a good hunter. However it’s a misnomer because this predator’s diet does not include geese, but rather crows, jays, grouse, and mammals such as hares and squirrels. The Latin name ‘Accipiter’ means ‘to grasp’, and ‘gentilis’ refers to its history as a bird of choice for nobility falconers. The northern goshawk was prized in falconry for over 2,000 years for its skillful hunting, and is still currently being used by falconers.
Although the northern goshawk breeds on PEI and is a year-round resident, its occurrence on the island is uncommon throughout the year. This bird of prey is widespread across the northern hemisphere, where it is a year-round resident in most of Canada up to the tree line, and the western part of the USA. Its permanent range also includes most of Europe and temperate Asia. In North America, its wintering range covers mainly the Prairies.