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Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis)

The ultimate woodland predator, goshawks are slowly returning from the brink of extinction.

Also known as: northern Goshawk

Scientific name: Accipiter gentilis

Family: Accipitridae (hawks and eagles)

Appearance

Head: primarily grey with a pale stripe across its distinctive, bright red eye.

Wings: its broad wings are grey on top and range from a pale cream to white underneath. Juveniles have brown feathers that turn grey once mature.

Body: the front of the goshawk's body is white and patterned with pale grey horizontal bars. It has long yellow legs and sharp talons. The female goshawk is larger than the male. This is a large species that is roughly the same size as a buzzard.

Where to spot

The goshawk has a scattered population across the UK, with the greatest numbers in Wales and southern Scotland. An elusive bird, it is most likely to be seen in dense woodland and especially woods planted with conifers. Your best chance of spotting one is on a clear fresh day between late winter and early spring, when the birds can be seen flying high over the trees performing their display flight to attract a mate. 

Goshawks were all but extinct as a breeding bird in the UK by the end of the 19th century due to loss of their woodland habitat and persecution from gamekeepers. Deliberate and accidental reintroductions have seen the population slowly recover, with an estimated 542 birds in 2017. However, both habitat loss and persecution remain a threat.

Feeding

A high-speed hunter that effortlessly weaves through its woodland home, the goshawk can take a wide variety of prey. Common food includes other birds such as wood pigeons, corvids (members of the crow family) and gamebirds. Mammals, such as squirrels and rabbits, are also regularly taken.

Breeding

The goshawk's nest is built close to the trunk of the tree and young are raised between March and June. It breeds at two years old and lays between two and four eggs.

Facts

  • You may mistake a sparrowhawk for a goshawk, but there are some key differences. Sparrowhawks are much smaller, with even the biggest bird no more than half the size of a goshawk. The former are also far more common and much more likely to be seen.
  • A powerful predator, goshawks are commonly used for falconry.