The Bird Corner

The Northern Goshawk

Thu, 07/30/2020 - 6:00pm

Block Island has always been a wonderful spot to go birding, not only because the island is an important stopover during migration, but due to the many species that live here.

At the Block Island School, we are following the tradition started by Elizabeth Dickens, who began the bird program at the School in the early 1900s. We are grateful to Kim Gaffett for continuing it.

Each year, Mrs. Szabo includes a bird unit in her fourth grade class, and asks her students to choose a bird they think will best make the “Block Island Bird of the Year.” Through nature walks, bird banding with Miss Gaffett, and research, each student chose a bird they believe best represents Block Island.

This is the seventh in a series.

Goshawk is the old English for “goose hawk” and in medieval times they were the ultimate falconry bird. The northern goshawks are quick agile hunters. Block Island is a great place to look for these birds because it is a safe place for them to stop and rest. The northern goshawk is a good bird to represent Block Island because they are ferocious protectors of their nest just like islanders protect the land and people here. They also show the determination of islanders in their nesting and hunting abilities.

People would like to see the northern goshawk because he is fierce looking with his red eyes. The Goshawk is gray, like the color of gunsmoke, with striped (or barred) stomach and long banded tail. The juvenile has dense streaking and the females grow larger than the males. The adults are 21 to 26 inches tall, combining the size of a buteo with the speed of an accipiter. Their eyes are yellow but as they get older they change to orange with a glow, then to red-orange after that, to blood red. It’s the largest hawk of the Northern forest with a wingspan of 3-feet 6-inches. With its sharp black talons and dark hooked bill, the Goshawk is savage, fearless, and merciless.

The northern goshawk is brave, fast, and he searches for prey by flying low in the woods and plunging through tangled branches. They search for hares, rabbits, squirrels, and other small mammals. They also hunt birds up to the size of a grouse, some insects and reptiles. They prefer to live in coniferous forests and mixed forests. The goshawk nests in forests with 60 percent closed canopy. The nest they build is usually 20 to 60 feet high in a tree, made out of a bulky mass of twigs. They lay between two and four eggs in a clutch. The incubation period is 28 to 38 days of sitting on the pale blue eggs. Sometimes they reuse the nests and the female takes care of the eggs while the male gets food. The winter range is in the north, midwest, and northeast parts of North America. They winter in farmland, woodland edges, and open fields. If there is a slight increase in global temperature lots of range will be lost.

The regal accipiter gentilis is a good and precise hunter and seeing a goshawk soaring above you would be a special sight. Attila the Hun, the leader of the ancient nomadic people known as the Huns, wore the goshawk image on his helmet as a sign of protection. The goshawk is tough looking and will do anything to protect their young like many Block Islanders. The northern goshawk can be Block Island’s symbol of protection — as well as Attila’s!