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NATURAL HISTORY

QUEEN CHARLOTTE GOSHAWK } Accipiter gentilis laingi
FAMILY: Accipitridae

DESCRIPTION: Short, powerful wings, a long, rudder-like tail, and protective eye tufts give the secretive goshawk an acrobatic ability to spin around trees and quickly dive under shrubs and brush to seize prey. Both sexes have a short, dark, hooked beak, red eyes, a blackish head and face, and a gray body. The Queen Charlotte is the smallest and darkest of the northern goshawks.

HABITAT: The Queen Charlotte needs mature and old-growth rainforests in the Pacific Northwest. Each pair of nesting goshawks requires between 8,000 and 240,000 acres of forest to feed and rear its young, depending on the degree to which its home range has been logged.

RANGE: The species ranges from the dark, lush coastal rainforests of insular Alaska to the Queen Charlotte Islands and Vancouver Island. It may also be the subspecies in the Olympic Peninsula.

MIGRATION: The Queen Charlotte goshawk is nonmigratory. On Vancouver Island, studies found that 80 percent of goshawks stayed within 30 kilometers of their nests year-round, simply expanding their breeding home ranges during the winter months.

BREEDING: In the spring, the goshawk has a gull-like mating call and puts on a spectacular display. Adults lay one to five eggs, and young leave the nest after about 35 days and begin trying to fly 10 days later. Juveniles may remain in their parents’ territory for up to a year.

LIFE CYCLE: Young begin to wander at 50 days of age and reach full independence at 70 days; most fledge around the 45-day mark. Fledglings studied on Vancouver Island spent about six weeks within an average of 59 hectares of the nest stands, learning flight and hunting skills before dispersing. In Southeast Alaska, juveniles moved up to 160 kilometers to areas where they either spent the winter or died. The average distance moved was 63 kilometers. Adult males apparently remain in their established home ranges in subsequent years, while females have been documented leaving their original territory altogether and nesting in subsequent years with a new mate in a different territory up to 152 kilometers away. The species’ lifespan may be up to six years.

FEEDING: A voracious predator of squirrels, jays, flickers, rabbits, snowshoe hares, and songbirds, the goshawk relies on surprise as it flies from a perch or hedge-hops to catch its prey unaware. While its prey is often smaller than the hunting hawk, the bird will also kill larger animals, up to the size of marmots.

THREATS: Many of the mature and old-growth rainforests the goshawk needs have been severely depleted by a century of logging and, in some cases, urban development.

POPULATION TREND: The population is estimated to have declined from more than 1,200 to between 275 and 575 breeding pairs.

Photo © Craig Flatten