Species: Northern Goshawk
The Northern Goshawk is a very secretive bird. They’re hard to spot and prefer to be far from human activity. You may hear them, but they’re extremely protective of their nests and young and if you don’t heed their warning calls, if you stray too close to their nest while hiking through mature, old-growth forests, they will likely dive down at human intruders.
They are a non-migratory bird and will stay in their designated territory for both the breeding season and the winter season. They are widespread over North America, but they are uncommon. It is estimated that within Canada, there are about 1000 adult birds. This is about half of their global population.
During their courtship dance, a pair will fly together, staying close to the treetops. The male will then repeatedly fly high above the female and dive straight down to her. The female Northern Goshawk is larger than the male so she is better able to keep the eggs warm during incubation in early April. During this time, the male is in charge of hunting and bringing her food. Typically, the female will lay about 2 to 4 blueish, white eggs that will hatch in late May or early June.
They are birds of prey and extremely skilled, fast and agile flyers. They mainly feed on other bird species but are also known to go after small mammals and reptiles.
It is suspected that the Northern Goshawks numbers will continue to decline due to deforestation of mature and old-growth forests. Commercial clearcutting destroys their nesting habitat and reduces prey abundance. The Northern Goshawk is now determined to be threatened.
Identification – what to look for:
- Head has a dark brown to grey cap
- They have a distinct, white browband overtop of their red to yellow eyes
- Belly is finely barred with white and brown feathers
- Tail is dark brown, long and rounded with a white, fluffy undertail
- Wings are also rounded and broad
- Less distinct, paler browband
- Thick, patchy barred with brown and white feathers
- Tail has narrow black and brown banding across it
Where are they found?
- They are non-migratory birds, the Northern Goshawk that stays in the West prefers mature and old-growth forests
- They prefer cool coniferous forests and mixed forests
- They can be seen in the day, flying near the treetops as they look for prey
- They will choose to build their nests in the largest and oldest trees in their territory
- They are very secretive birds so they are hard to spot
- Humans have trained and used Goshawks as hunting birds for more than 2000 years
- Females are actually larger and heavier than males, this is known as “reversed sexual size dimorphism”
- They are known to add conifer needles to their nests, which is thought to act as both an insecticide and a fungicide
- They are very secretive birds and are very hard to spot; if you wish to see one you must be quiet and patient
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Northern Goshawk Sounds
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Northern Goshawk Flying
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: More Identification Information
Canadian Wildlife Federation: Sharp Shinned Hawk
COSEWIC Status Report (PDF): Northern Goshawk
Join the FOCI family
Become a Friends of Cortes Island member and support the work that we’re doing in the community to help look after our beautiful island.
Friends of Cortes Island Society (FOCI) is a charitable organization that has been active for over 25 years. Our organization exists to monitor and preserve the health of local ecosystems, and to provide educational programs that foster a greater understanding of the natural environment. Through all of our projects, we work to promote environmental integrity through community responsibility.