In northern England and Scotland I rarely see Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis away from mature conifer plantations in upland environments, usually on the edge of moorland. When I lived in southern England I did see a few in deciduous woodlands (I seem to remember seeing my first with a gathered crowd of birders at Walberswick in the late 70's), mainly in the New Forest with sightings in the Thetford area, again in conifers.
Since moving to Lancashire and birding regularly in Scotland I've gained a lot more experience with this secretive, powerful predator, but never seen one away from forested habitats, usually on moorland edge. I have observed birds travelling across large tracts of open moorland, but never hunting or perching there.
I have however observed birds perched for lengthy periods in full view, sometimes for up to an hour and a half. Something that Sparrowhawks A. nisus rarely does, Goshawks often perch near the top of an emergent tree such as a larch, in full view. These observations were often of single birds, but prior to nesting I have watched a pair sitting in the early morning sun, close to where they subsequently nested. Later, in the breeding season I have observed birds perching close to the nest from a distance using a 'scope. The female rarely rested for more than a few seconds, usually calling before flying off into the forest. The male on the other hand could often be watched for over an hour on a lofty position overlooking the canopy.
The spectacular "sky diving" display of the Goshawk is well documented and probably accounts for most observers' experience of this species, with many visiting breeding sites in early Spring to watch a male undulating above the canopy. I have watched some incredible accents, indeed at one time the bird disappeared from view it was so high, before plummeting down to the canopy. Much of the display takes place at tree-height however and is rarely observed. This performance involves a "chase" (one following the other just above the canopy), and a flutter-flight at tree-top level, interspersed with some shallow undulations just above the canopy and terminating in a smooth series of languid, elastic Honey-buzzard-like flaps as the bird heads for the forest. The "chase" is spectacular to watch: one bird in close pursuit of the other, twisting and turning as they fly between, or just above the very tips of the tops of trees; I once witnessed one "chase" continue to the edge of the forest and beyond, over the open moorland.
Female Goshawk alarm calls (with male later in recording) and contact call at end. Recording made with Sennheiser microphone and Edirol digital recorder at distance from birds.
If you're in Goshawk territory you'll hear them at one time or another. The "kak-kak-kak-kak-kak" call is the one I've most frequently heard. It is possible to tell the male call from that of the female, but it's tricky and only when both birds have been calling simultaneously have I been able to detect the slightly deeper, more "hollow" call of the larger hen.
|Male Goshawk giving alarm call.|
|Male Goshawk on exposed perch.|
Check out those big fluffy white under-coverts on this perched male. These can be seen readily in flight as well, almost wrapping around the upper-tail giving the rear end to the bird a strange "dunlin tail-pattern" appearance (dark tip and centre with white outer-tail). This was particularly obvious on a female I watched in a clearing that appeared from the forest edge to check me out periodically. This may be a feature more enhanced during courtship and breeding though? The thick-set "hips" of a Goshawk (especially females) is a good feature too.
I found it quite difficult to sex some Goshawks so I was relieved to read Keith Vinicombe's "Getting to grips with Goshawks"; the best concise article I've read on this sometimes difficult species. Some males are particularly white below (even the well-barred male I watched looked very white below when sitting in the canopy in the early morning sun), some are bluish-grey above and noticeably smaller than the female. I've seen a pair together; female only slightly larger than male and male only subtly grey-brown (rather than just brown in the female).
The structure is always good though - pigeon-like head, broad, rounded wings set central along the body (giving that "crucifix" shape), tail long and broad and (particularly in the female) barrel-chested with bulging secondaries on the trailing edge to the wing.
Anyway, read Keith's article and you'll know one when you see one ......
|Distant male Goshawk overlooks nesting area from tall Larch.|