Species Spotlight: Northern Goshawk


Goshawk at Malheur


Written by Teresa Wicks/ Photos by Teresa Wicks

Northern goshawks are found across North America and throughout Eurasia. The word ‘goshawk’ comes from Old English and means “goose hawk,” a tribute to their bird-heavy diet. Humans and goshawks have worked together for approximately 2,000 years, when falconers began training them to capture meat for dinner.

Known as a forest-dwelling species, northern goshawks are widely-distributed but uncommon in coniferous forests in Oregon. Though most northern goshawks are not migratory, some birds are altitudinal migrants, moving down in elevation during the winter. In Burns and Hines, the abundance of California quail, tall shelter trees, and open spaces for hunting are an ideal place to spend the winter for a goshawk. Thus, we are fortunate to see all three of North America’s accipiter species at feeders, cruising neighborhoods, and perched in trees in town in the winter. Because of this it can be helpful to know how to differentiate between northern goshawks and their kin.

As North America’s largest accipiter, females are nearly the size of a red-tailed hawk while males are closer in size to a female cooper’s hawk. Though they look similar to Cooper’s hawks and sharp-shinned hawks as juveniles, as adults they have a distinct slate color, with a white breast and slate barring. They also have a long, white eyebrow. Immature birds are identified by their buffy breast with thick streaks, white or whitish eyebrow, and irregular banding on their tail.

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