The Northern Goshawk is legendary for its ferocity, beauty and amazing flight skills. In ancient Persia it was called Baz-Nama, the King Hawk, and in medieval Europe it was the most prized of all falconry hawks. Linnaeus named it Accipiter gentilis in the 16th century, for its nobility (gentilis) and awesome ability to seize (accipere) squirrels, rabbits, birds, and other prey on the fly.

In North America, goshawks inhabit most mature forests types west of the continental divide from Canada and Alaska through every western state into southern Mexico (range map). East of the divide, they are largely restricted to southern Canada and the northern U.S.

While most hawks soar and dive over open meadows, streams, tundra, estuaries or coastlines, goshawks are more likely to be seen within forests, darting through the trees beneath the canopy. Over hundreds of thousands of years, they have developed short, powerful wings and protective eye tufts which enable them to fly (mostly unscathed) through the forest understory and canopy in pursuit of songbirds and squirrels. Their long, rudder-like tails gives them a acrobatic ability to spin around trees and quickly dive under nestlingsshrubs and brush. A subspecies called the Queen Charlotte goshawk (Accipiter gentilis laingi) has evolved to live within the dark rainforests of southeast Alaska, the Queen Charlotte Islands, Vancouver Island, and likely western Washington and Oregon. In the Southwest, a subspecies called the Apache Goshawk (A.g. apache) has evolved to live within the dry sunny forests of southern Arizona, southern New Mexico, and the Sierra Madre in Mexico. The Northern Goshawk subspecies (A.g. atricapillus) inhabits the rest of the species' range.

Unfortunately as mature and old growth forests become rarer and rarer, so do goshawks. Numerous scientific studies have documented lower or declining goshawk populations in heavily logged forests. Goshawks are extremely rare today in the clearcut dominated coast ranges from California to Washington State and in the Sierra Madre. Because the goshawk is both a top level predator and an ecological engineer, its decline contributes to the unraveling of forest ecosystems, stressing other forest dependent species. As a voracious predator of squirrels, jays, flickers, rabbits, snowshoe hares and songbirds, goshawks play an important role in the forest food web. As builders of numerous, large nests, goshawks provide essential nesting opportunities for many species which can not build their own nests. Each pair of goshawks build and maintain between three and nine nests within their home range, but use and defend only one (or less) per year. While goshawk nests are especially important to sensitive or imperiled species such as Spotted Owls and Great Gray Owls they are also used by Cooper's Hawks, Red-Tailed Hawks, Great Horned Owls, Short-eared Owls, squirrels, and many other species. Within a decade of goshawks being driven from a forest, their nests collapse from lack of maintenance and a precious wildlife habitat is lost.

In order to save the goshawk and the forests it depends upon, the Center for Biological Diversity has launched an ambitious campaign to protect all three subspecies and all mature forests from Alaska to Mexico. At the federal level, the Center is seeking to list the Queen Charlotte goshawk as a endangered species in Alaska, British Columbia, Washington and Oregon, and the Apache and Northern Goshawks as endangered species in all U.S. States west of the continental divide. At the regional level, the Center is leading efforts to protect goshawks in the Southwest, the Sierra Nevada, Utah, and Southeast Alaska. At the local level, we are challenging timber sales, grazing allotments, and road construction which destroys goshawk habitat. The Center is also conducting scientific research on goshawks and publishes a online review of goshawk research and conservation issues.

graphic Andrew Rodman ©2002
August 12, 2005
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