Northern GoshawkAccipiter gentilis (Linnaeus)
Status Uncommon resident. Breeds. Most frequently seen during fall migration. Favours heavily wooded areas, and does not fly high.
Description Length: 50-66 cm. Adults: Upperparts bluish gray; head blackish gray, a white line over and behind the eye; underparts grayish white, evenly marked with fine wavy bars and streaks of dark gray. Immatures: Upperparts fuscous, feathers margined with rufous; primaries and tail barred with dark brown; underparts white to buff, streaked with dark brown.
Breeding Nest: Seldom more than 10 m from the ground in trees, a marked preference being shown for deciduous varieties. Composed of coarse sticks with a lining of smaller sticks; bits of dry bark; and usually tips of evergreen, a preference being shown for pine and hemlock these green twigs are added or perhaps renewed after the eggs have hatched. When viewed from below, an occupied nest will show small flecks of white down sticking to the outer structure. Heavy, old-growth hardwoods are most favoured at nesting time, but nests frequently may be found in woods of mixed growth.
It is customary for a pair to return year after year to an established nest site and it is not unusual to find a bird in adult plumage mated with one wearing immature dress. Of 44 nests examined, yellow birch was selected 12 times; beech, 7; maple, 6; poplar, 6; pine, 5; white birch, 5; hemlock, twice; and spruce, once. Repair of old nests commences early in March and laying begins about the middle of April. Eggs: 2-4, usually 3; white or very pale bluish white. Of 47 nests where laying of eggs had been completed, 16 were found to contain two; 23 held three; and 8 had sets of four. Much variation in behavior is shown by individual birds when an occupied nest is approached. Usually extreme aggressiveness is shown, the female being bolder than her mate. Such birds, particularly when the nest holds young, will dive-bomb ferociously, sometimes striking a human intruder severely with their talons. On rare occasions, birds will leave their nests when an approaching intruder is still 50 m away and fly off silently into the woods, calling intermittently from long range as long as danger threatens.
Range Breeds from northwestern Alaska across forested Canada and south to the northern United States. Other races occur on the western coast of North America and in the Old World.
Remarks The early European settlers were largely dependent upon the produce of their lands. Every farm had its own flock of hens, which was allowed to roam at large, making easy prey for natural predators. The first large hawk (probably a Goshawk) caught in the act of killing a hen initiated a long and vicious campaign aimed at the extinction of all hawks. This hatred was handed down from father to son for many generations. No attempt was made to distinguish one hawk from another. All were bad. Larger hawks were known as "hen-hawks" and smaller varieties, not having the strength to kill hens, were called "chicken-hawks." Exaggerated stories of their destructiveness were told and even those with no poultry of their own were activated through sympathy to join in the crusade.
A change in public sentiment against this barbaric and unwarranted treatment of hawks began to appear a number of decades ago and continued to gain ground. Enlightenment comes hand in hand with education and much was accomplished through that channel. Another reason for the decline in hostility towards these birds was the reduction in the number of farmers with poultry yards, probably because these became unprofitable. Poultry raising today is big business. The private individual with no hens to lose has lost his bitterness towards hawks. Legislators, ever mindful of the wishes of their constituents, have been bold or enlightened enough to enact laws protecting all species of hawks and owls in Nova Scotia throughout the year.
Only at nesting time have I heard these birds use their vocal organs. The usual note, uttered in protest as the nest is approached, is a strident, staccato cac-cac-cac which carries a piercing, menacing tone. (Two other notes seldom heard are mentioned by Tufts in Bent .)
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Credits and copyright information. Last updated February 20, 1998
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