The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 26, 2002


Biodiversity Corner Northern Goshawk

Name: Northern Goshawk or Accipiter gentilis.

In ancient Persia it was called Baz-Nama, the King Hawk, and in medieval Europe it was the most prized of all falconry hawks. Goshawk

Its Latin name pays tribute to the goshawk's awesome ability to seize (accipere) and its nobility (gentilis).

When and Where Seen: Several times a week in the upper part of Indian Hill Road, early mornings, late afternoons. It perches motionless on a high tree limb and then often dive-bombs into the woods.

According to birder Ken Harte, goshawks are known to nest in the Concord part of Estabrook Woods where they've been for decades, and "there is also at least one pair in the State Park." On the Christmas Bird Count in Carlisle, one or two goshawks have been spotted every other year or so since 1987, the first year they were recorded on the CBC. Harte says, "Overall, I believe that the goshawk is holding its own in Carlisle, neither increasing nor decreasing."

Distinguishing characteristics: About 20-26" long, wingspan of 42". The goshawk is a heavy-bodied hawk with a dark blue-grey back, black head, speckled underparts, and a distinctive white eyebrow. Their talons can be more than an inch long. Females are larger than males.

Voice: When they're in pursuit of prey (which seems to be much of the time), goshawks give forth with a loud kak-kak-kak, but they also have a squeak that sounds like bed-springs.

Habitat: Northern Goshawks are found in northern coniferous forests. Unfortunately, as mature and old growth forests give way to development interests, goshawk populations are threatened in the western U.S. and efforts are underway to declare the Northern Goshawk an endangered species in all states west of the continental divide.

Behavior: Unlike many of its hawk and eagle cousins who soar and dive over open meadows and water, goshawks are more likely to be seen diving and darting through the trees in search of squirrels and birds. Short, powerful wings, protective eye-tufts and a long, rudder-like tail that allows them to spin around trees and dive under shrubbery make the Northern Goshawk a formidable predator. When defending a nest, the goshawk will boldly attack anyone who comes too close.

Food: Goshawks feast on squirrels, robins, blue jays, rabbits, woodpeckers, grouse, seagullsand probably every other small inhabitant of or visitor to our Carlisle woods. I first encountered a goshawk through the binoculars last spring, when I investigated a terrific racket in my woods. There was a goshawk perched on a large tree limb, pulling apart a squirrel it had just caught.

References: The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, Eastern Region.

Web site:

Submissions for the Biodiversity Corner are encouraged and welcomed from all interested observers of nature.Think of it as your space to say a word or two on behalf of one of your favorite species. Just follow the format of today's column (or not) and send to Kay Fairweather at 392 School Street, Carlisle, MA 01741 or to Don't hold back due to lack of photos or drawings.

2002 The Carlisle Mosquito