Yreka Fish and Wildlife Office
Pacific Southwest Region
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Local Species Information - Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis)

 

Adult northern goshawk.  USFWS file photo.

Adult northern goshawk.  USFWS file photo.

 

Natural History 

 

Background

Northern goshawks are not listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), however they were petitioned for listing 1991.  As a result of the petition, a total of three 90-day findings and one 12-month finding were conducted between 1992 and 1998.  The 12-month finding determined that listing under the ESA was not warranted.  Northern goshawks were petitioned for listing due to concerns of population decline as a result of habitat loss. 

 

Identifying Characteristics

Adult northern goshawk.  US Forest Service file photo.
Juvenile northern goshawk.  USFWS file photo.
Adult northern goshawk.
US Forest Service file photo.
Juvenile northern goshawk.
USWFS file photo.

Markings: Northern goshawks are similar in size to red-tailed hawks.  Adult northern goshawks are dark gray from behind, with alternating light and dark gray bars on the tail.  The breast is white to light gray with fine streaks of dark gray.  Adult northern goshawks have a red eye with a horizontal white stripe directly above the eye. 

 

Juvenile northern goshawks have a brown head, back, and wings.  The tail is brown with darkbrown bars.  The breast is dirty in appearance with brown streaks on buff colored feathers.  Eyes of young goshawks range in color from pale yellow to orange. 

 

Northern goshawk feathers have been scanned and are available for viewing here.


Look-a-like raptors:  

 

Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)

Cooper’s hawks occur in similar habitats to northern goshawks, but are smaller and more closely resemble the size of an American crow.  Unlike northern goshawks, adult Cooper’s hawks have a rusty coloration on the breast.  Juvenile Cooper’s hawks look very similar to juvenile northern goshawks.  Feathers of Cooper’s hawks can be viewed here

Adult Cooper's hawl.  US Forest Service file photo.Adult Cooper’s hawk.

US Forest Service file photo.

 

Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus)

Sharp-shinned hawks occur in similar habitats to northern goshawks, but are much smaller in size.  Sharp-shinned hawks are similar in size to the American robin.  Similar to Cooper’s hawks, adult sharp-shinned hawks have a rusty coloration on the breast.  Juvenile sharp-shinned hawks look very similar to juvenile northern goshawks and juvenile Cooper’s hawks.  Feathers of sharp-shinned hawks can be viewed here


Adult sharp-shinned hawk.  US Forest Service file photo.

Adult sharp-shinned hawk.

US Forest Service file photo.

 

Vocalizations:  Northern goshawks give an alarm call, female wail call, male prey delivery call, and juvenile begging call.

           

Sound-a-like birds:  The Steller’s jay and the gray jay are known to mimic northern goshawk vocalizations.  To hear vocalizations of raptors with similar calls to northern goshawks, click on a name below:

Cooper’s hawk

Sharp-shinned hawk   

 

Geographic Range

The range of the northern goshawk in North America extends from Alaska south through Canada and portions of the lower 48 United States, into Mexico.

 

Map of the areas in which northern goshawks occur.  Image obtained from the Birds of North America Online.

               Map of the areas in which northern goshawks occur.  Image

                  obtained from the Birds of North America Online

 

Habitat

Northern goshawks occupy a variety of habitats including mature coniferous and deciduous forests.  Nest sites are generally in stands of larger trees with dense canopy cover.  Northern goshawks hunt in openings and in forested stands with an open understory that allow for catching prey in flight.

 

In northern California, goshawks nest in mature mixed conifer and pine forests, but also use pure aspen stands on the east side of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.  Within a nest stand, northern goshawks may have as many as eight alternate nest sites.

 

Prey

Northern goshawks eat a wide variety of small mammals and birds.  In northern California, common prey species are golden-mantled ground squirrel, Douglas squirrel, Steller’s jay, and northern flicker.  Prey as large as snowshoe hare and blue grouse are also taken by northern goshawks.  Because northern goshawks are able to catch prey in flight, they often use linear openings, such as old logging skid trails, to chase birds and small mammals.

 

Reproduction

Northern goshawks lay one to four eggs in early spring, with a clutch commonly producing two to three chicks.  Young fledge at about five to six weeks old, but are dependent upon their parents for food until late summer or early fall.

 

Northern goshawk nest (top-center of photo) in a mixed conifer stand.  Photo by Elizabeth Frost

Northern goshawk nest (top-center of photo) in

a mixed conifer stand. Photo by Elizabeth Frost.

 

Current Information

A list of literature pertaining to northern goshawks, habitats, and prey is available here.  Additional literature citations will be added to this list as they become available.

 

Links for More Information

Survey Protocol