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The largest member of its family, an adult goshawk is almost 2 feet long (including the tail), has a wingspan of almost 4 feet, and weighs about 3 pounds; females are considerably larger than males. The head and back are dark brown, the underparts are white with close dark bars, and there is a distinctive white stripe above the reddish-orange eyes. Juveniles are light brown underneath, with dark streaks instead of bars.
The goshawk has short, robust wings that enable rapid acceleration, and its long tail provides excellent maneuverability while flying between trees.
Distribution and Habitat
The goshawk can be found across North America from Alaska to Newfoundland and as far south as a line roughly extending from Arizona to Tennessee. It is also found in Eurasia from the British Isles to Japan and the Kamchatka Peninsula, south to a line roughly along the latitude of the English Channel. There are also scattered populations in southern China and extreme northern Africa, as well as an isolated population in the mountains of eastern Tibet.
Goshawks prefer the edges of woods and forests with clearings, but can also be found in cultivated areas near human habitations, such as parks and farms.
In general, goshawks prey on a wide variety of animals, from rodents to small wildcats, as well as birds, reptiles, and even snails. Individual goshawks, however, tend to be fairly particular about what they go after -- one goshawk in a population may prey almost exclusively on birds while another in the same population may focus on rodents, and some individual goshawks may prey only on specific species of animals.
Hunting is usually done by sitting on a perch and waiting for prey to come by, but the goshawk will also actively fly out in search in prey. Which method is used depends primarily on the type of prey the individual goshawk prefers. However it is hunted, the prey is almost always taken on the ground. Once caught, the prey is gripped by the goshawk's strong talons and taken to a perch, where it is then dismembered and eaten.
Goshawks can be very persistent in pursuing prey. One goshawk was seen pursuing a snowshoe hare for 45 to 60 minutes along a hedgerow until the hare ran into a clearing and was finally seized. A goshawk may also chase poultry into buildings.
The nest is a large bowl of thin sticks lined with bark and greenery, usually located in a tree next to the trunk. Breeding pairs tend to stay together for life, and they usually use the same nest year after year.
Three to five bluish or white eggs are laid from early April through May. They are incubated solely by the female for about 38 days, during which period the male will bring her food. The male continues to supply food for for the 5-6 weeks it takes the chicks to fledge. Rather than feeding the chicks directly, the female deposits food in the nest and the chicks must tear off pieces for themselves. Both parents will fiercely defend the nest and chicks, and goshawks are known to attack any animal (including a human) that gets too close. Juvenile goshawks are able to fend for themselves at about 10-12 weeks. Sexual maturity is reached at 2-3 years, and goshawks can live up to 19-20 years.
Although several goshawks may share a common hunting range, they never socialize.
The name "goshawk" comes from the Old English words gos, meaning goose, and hafoc, meaning hawk. It is pronounced as if the words are still separate, without any "sh" sound. The scientific name comes from the Latin words accipere, meaning to take or seize (referring to a bird of prey), and gentilis, meaning of nobility. The latter term refers to the goshawk having a long history with nobility through its use in falconry, where the species was prized for its speedy, relentless pursuits and fearlessness.
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This page was last updated on September 25, 2017.