Stacey Cole's Nature Talks: The goshawk ... Handsome, brave and fierce predator

By STACEY COLE October 05. 2018 8:07PM
The northern goshawk is a year-round resident of New Hampshire, but they are hard to find since they prefer large, dense forest. (Courtesy/Cheryl LeBlanc)

Editor’s note: The following column was originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader on Feb. 21, 1976.

I hope nobody ever asks me what my favorite bird is. I guess I don’t even have a favorite class of birds, yet I find myself partial to hawks and owls.

That doesn’t mean that my partiality dampens my enthusiasm for any other class of birds, with the exception of those few species who are in overabundance, to wit, house sparrows, starlings, blackbirds and rock doves. Now I want to make sure that I am not misunderstood. I have nothing against these four species as individuals. It is just the numbers of them. Their populations are out of hand and it is because of the imbalance that trouble brews.

Perhaps that is the reason I began this article by saying that I was partial to the predators in that the reason for the hawks and owls is to take care of the unwary and weak, thus balancing nature.

One of the most interesting of the hawks, and one that I have had an opportunity to study at its nest, is the goshawk. Of this bird, Forbush says:

“Among all the fierce raptors that inhibit the continent of North America, there is no hawk handsomer, braver, fierce or more powerful than the goshawk. Its attack is swift, furious and deadly. The goshawk is a bird of the great northern coniferous forests, but in winter when pressed by hunger it hunts over all kinds of territory.”

I was most fortunate several years ago to have one of our readers tell me of a nesting goshawk. There were two young, nearly full grown. Immature goshawks are brown in color. Actually, if I had come across them without one of the adults being present I would have had trouble calling them by their proper name, for they are very much like the immature Cooper’s hawk.

Cooper’s hawks are smaller than goshawks, but sometimes, looking at a bird in a nest partially concealed and well up in a tree, size comparison is most elusive.

The adult goshawk has a long tail with broad, rounded wings. Its breast it a rather pale grey while its back is a blue gray.

The other day one of our readers wrote to tell me of an experience he had with a goshawk in Wakefield last winter, as follows:

“Looking out of the window, I saw a large goshawk (obviously an adult female) about 100 feet from the house at the edge of a stand of alders, feeding. When I went outside she kept on feeding, facing me for a few minutes, then walked off and flew away. I found that she had killed a rabbit.

“After about an hour she came back and continued feeding. A few minutes later another, much smaller, goshawk (obviously an adult male) came but she chased him away. When she left she had almost half of the rabbit.

“Monday morning she was back again. During the night the temperature had dropped to 15 below. Obviously part of the carcass had frozen. I do not know when she came but I saw her shortly after 8 a.m. She fed in spurts, resting in between, until about 11:30. She flew off when I went outside.”

The one thing I remember most about the time I spent at the goshawks’ nest was the vigor which the female showed in her attempt to protect her nest from me. She probably thought my camera tripod was some sort of cannon which would blow her and her two offspring to Kingdom Come. As much as I like to have wild creatures trust me, I must confess I really want them to be wary, for all humans do not regard birds with a loving eye, especially members of the hawk and owl families.

Long before I saw the adult, however, I had set up my camera in some brush and waited for one to show up. Hopefully, I could photograph the feeding of the young. After spending several hours at the location with no sign of the parent birds, I left my post and began to walk a nearby woods road.

Suddenly, from nowhere, I heard this wild cry. Looking up I saw a great bird rushing toward me, wings outstretched, talons hanging down in a “strike” position. Its speed was incredible. Its noise was frightening and without a blush I admit I ducked. She made several passes at me. During this display of courage on her part, I stood my ground and was lucky enough to take several photographs of her coming at me head on. If anyone wishes to do such a thing, it is my suggestion that they wear a protective helmet. I didn’t even have a hat, and when relating this experience to a knowledgeable friend, he said he had known of goshawks striking a man’s head with unfortunate results to the man.

All wild creatures should be respected, for when they are feeding their young they can be, and often are, ferocious.

Stacey Cole, Nature Talks columnist for more than 50 years, passed away in 2014. If readers have a favorite column written by Stacey that they would like to see reprinted, please drop a note to Jen Lord at jlord@unionleader.com.


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