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.
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
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
"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
genus & species Accipiter gentilis
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