Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawk laingi subspecies. Photo credit: Rory Hill

Responsible habitat management is a defining characteristic of private forest stewardship in B.C. To help small-forest owners be the best forest stewards they can be, we’ve put together a 2-part series titled “Managing Wildlife Habitat: Everything You Need to Know About Northern Goshawks”.

In the first post we introduce some defining characteristics of the species and briefly explain why, as a forest owner or land manager in British Columbia, it’s important to pay close attention to coastal Northern Goshawks.

Why Do Northern Goshawks Matter?

Presently, coastal Northern Goshawks (laingi subspecies) are red-listed by the BC Conservation Data Centre (you can learn more about what it means to be on the red list from the B.C. Ministry of Environment website).

Coastal Northern Goshawks are also listed as a threatened species by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) — a federal committee that assesses and designates which wildlife species are in danger of disappearing from Canada—and the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) lists the coastal Northern Goshawk as a Schedule 1 threatened species. Goshawks on the east side of the Coast Range (interior BC) are not considered at risk.

Without appropriate management actions Northern Goshawks and forestry operations can conflict. It’s important to understand the breeding chronology and habitat requirements for this bird in order to establish an appropriate management plan.

The Basics: What is a Northern Goshawk?

Northern Goshawks (Accipiter gentilis) are one of three species of Accipiter hawks recognized in North America. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes the Northern Goshawk as “the bigger, fiercer, wilder relative of the Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks.”

The Northern Goshawk is a medium-sized, robust forest-dwelling raptor about the size of a raven (length: 56–61 cm; wingspan: 98-115 cm) with short, broad wings and a long rudder-like tail well adapted for maneuvering and flying through forests in pursuit of prey.

You can distinguish an adult Northern Goshawk from both Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned hawks by their larger size and their greyish colouration compared to the rusty-brown colouration of the other two birds.

Where do Northern Goshawks live?

Within Canada, 100% of the range of the Northern Goshawk laingi subspecies occurs within British Columbia. Range boundaries occur in the coastal rainforests of Haida Gwaii, Vancouver Island, other British Columbia coastal islands and the coastal mainland west of the Coast Mountains.

Northern Goshawks are sub-canopy dwellers in closed-canopy coniferous or mixed forests with mature (45+ years) forest structure.

For the most part, Northern Goshawks are non-migratory. Males primarily remain on or near their nest territories year-round, while females tend to make short-distance movements to mostly lower elevations in winter.

What does a Northern Goshawk laingi subspecies look like?

Descriptions of the Northern Goshawk laingi subspecies will differ depending on the age and sex of the birds. Northern Goshawks less than 3 years old are called immatures or juveniles, while birds older than 3 years are considered adults.

Northern Goshawk   Northern Goshawk

You can identify an adult Northern Goshawk by the bold white stripe above its red eyes. The white eyebrow stripe separates the black crown on top of the bird’s head from its blue-grey back.

Adult Northern Goshawks have white chests with dense grey barring that can appear light grey from a distance. Long, somewhat rounded, tails have bands of alternating grey and black. Northern Goshawks also have yellow legs and feet with black talons.

juvenile and adult Northern Goshawks

Northern Goshawks: juvenile (left) adult (right). Photo credit: Wikipedia

Male and females are similar in colour, shape and characteristics, but male Northern Goshawks are smaller than females

A juvenile Northern Goshawk laingi subspecies is recognizable by its faint white eyebrow stripe, dusky brown colour and buff-coloured chest with dark brown vertical streaks.

Please stand by for the next post in our 2-part series “Everything You Need to Know About Northern Goshawks” with detailed information to help you know how to:

  • identify nests on your property
  • understand breeding habitats

A big thanks to Molly Hudson, biologist with TimberWest, for her expertise in helping us put this information together.