Quaker Goshawk

7 11 2010

Northern Goshawk - Steve Beal

So the other day at the Le Conte’s Sparrow I was talking with a couple of other experienced hawkwatchers/birders about the trouble that many people seem to have with getting big accipiter ID’s correct. I’m not an expert on them by any means but a good number of sightings at Quaker this year have certainly given me a decent feel for them I think. I thought it might be instructive to post some shots that Steve Beal took of an juvenile Goshawk at Quaker Ridge today and go through some ID pointers.

Northern Goshawk - Steve Beal

It always amazes me how many people don’t seem to look for the relevant features on big accipiters and merely parrot the line that the bird had a big supercilium as if that were some definitive marker (it isn’t by the way, all juvie accipiters can show you a distinct supercilium). It is common knowledge that Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks can virtually overlap in size but it seems to evade most people that the same is true of small male Northern Goshawks and large female Cooper’s, so large female Coopers seem to throw people a little when they encounter them.

Northern Goshawk - Steve Beal

Anyway these pictures show you some of the key features you should look for in flight and many are noticeable on the deck as well:

Structure:(a) Broad ‘thick-set’ body, (beware Coopers with a full crop as they can look bulkier) look at the bulk of this bird and the deep keeled belly, (b) Tail that just looks like a continuation of a thickly built body (Coopers often appear cinched at the base of the tail to my eye), (c) Broad wings with narrow ‘hands’ (can make the bird almost look falconesque flying away from you).

Plumage: a) Uneven and ‘wonky’ bands on tail, (b) rufous wash on nape, (c) buffy bar on greater wing coverts, (c) dark streaks on undertail (d) streaking much heavier than average Coopers Hawk (juvie coops often look pale underneath at distance- juvie Goshawks look ‘dirty’ like Sharp-shinneds), (e) Goshawks tend to look slightly more washed in buff than Cooper’s on the underside, whereas coops show a pale whitish base color to the streaking (f) as pointed out by Brian O’Toole you can even see the white edging to the dark banding on the tail (probably not something to try look for on in flight birds!!!).

Flight Style: Fairly distinctive in my experience this is a big heavy powerful bird thus it tends to be very steady in the soar and comes across almost as a buteo (why wouldn’t it it’s the size of a Red-tailed Hawk!), it can accelerate very rapidly and the wing beats appear powerful none of this lazy flicky flap flap flap glide malarky you get from smaller accipiters but rather a much deeper and powerful flap that propels the bird swiftly and directly.

We don’t get to see many Goshawks, so just in this past seasons watching I feel my personal confidence with this species as grown considerably. I thought it might be helpful to jot down a few thoughts, so any agreements, disagreements or pointers you think I’ve missed feel free to chime in. Hope it might be helpful to a few.

Thanks to Steve Beal for letting me use the pictures. A picture is worth a thousand words!



5 responses

7 11 2010
Benjamin Van Doren

For me, what especially says goshawk in those photos are the really long “hands” of the bird. The primaries extend out- and backward proportionally much more than those of a coop, I think.

7 11 2010

Hi Ben,

Thanks – good point. I edited to say narrow rather than small ‘hands’ which is a better description.


8 11 2010
Sara Z.

Thanks for this primer on goshawk id, it is very useful. I was lucky enough to see 5 of them on Sunday with Steve Mayo at Lighthouse Point and the discussions on the identification of the various birds covered all the points you mentioned in your article. Well done!

8 11 2010

Luke, this was very informative. Thanks so much for posting all this information and using the pictures to illustrate your points. You should do more of this, It’s great!

7 03 2012
Words We Women Write

I’m going to send this on to the birders I know. I loved the specificity of your descriptions. This is a big bird!

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