Northern Goshawk (Accipter gentilis)


Class: Aves
Order: Falconiformes
Family:    Accipitridae
Size:    Length 21 to 26 inches (53 to 66 cm)   Wingspan: 40 to 46 inches (102 to 117 cm)
Weight: 1 to 3 pounds (0.5 to 1.4 kg)
Diet: Birds, rodents, rabbits, squirrels, reptiles and other small to medium-sized animals
Distribution: North America, Europe, Asia
Young:  3 to 5 chicks, once a year
Animal Predators:  None
IUCN Status: No special status
Terms: Young: Chick
Lifespan: Approximately 15 years



·     The Northern goshawk is featured on a 46-cent Canadian stamp.

·     Female goshawks are larger than their male counterparts.

·     The name “goshawk” is derived from the term “goose hawk,” although they do not hunt geese.

·     The scientific name means (gentilis) nobility and (accipter) ability to seize.



The colouring of northern goshawks ranges from slate blue-grey to black. Their back, head and wing tops are usually dark, while the tail is light grey. Goshawks have white undersides with fine grey horizontal barring and eye colour ranging from red to reddish-brown.  Goshawks also have a distinctive white grouping of feathers which form a band above the eye.



Northern goshawks live in conifer-dominated forests throughout North America, Europe and Asia. In North America, they are more often found in western states and provinces than in the east. 


Feeding Habits

Goshawks select their prey from a concealed perch or from high in the air.  When a target is chosen, they fly to the ground at a great speed to catch the animal by surprise. They are considered valuable in keeping the rodent population in control. 



Northern goshawks mate for life and only look for another mate if one of the pair dies. Unlike many other species in which the male courts the female, in this case, females perform aerial dances to attract a male. Once a pair is established, they build a nest together composed of twigs, pine needles and bark in the crotch of a hardwood tree. Eggs are laid up to two months later in two to three day intervals. The female sits on the eggs, but the male takes over occasionally so she can have a break and find something to eat. The eggs begin to hatch in 36 days. While the chicks are small and helpless, the female does not leave the nest. The male brings food back for her and the nestlings. Both the male and female are fierce protectors of their nest and offspring and attack anyone who ventures too close. When the chicks are almost a month old, the female will begin to leave them for short periods of time while hunting with her mate. At about 35 days old, the young goshawks begin to move out of the nest and explore along the branches of the tree, before making their first attempts at flight. Young goshawks become fully independent by the time they are three months old. 



Northern goshawks are one of the most popular birds of prey because of their ferocity, even though that also makes them one of the most difficult birds to train. Although these raptors mate for life, goshawks are solitary birds that only join their mates during spring and summer. They are beautiful, graceful birds and powerful flyers.



There are 12 subspecies of northern goshawks, and several of them are in danger. In Canada, the Queen Charlotte goshawk (Accipiter gentilis laingi) is on British Columbia’s Red List. In the United States, the Center for Biological Diversity and 18 environmental groups from across the west are petitioning the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to add the Northern goshawk to the federal Endangered Species Act list. By becoming listed as endangered, the goshawk’s habitat—mature and old growth forests in the west—would also be protected, causing logging operations to be reduced.



Northern Goshawk Wildlife Fact File, IM Pub, US

National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, Third Ed. (1999)