Birds – American Goshawk

(Accipiter atricapillus)


Length—Male 22 inches; female 24 inches.

Male and Female—Upper parts bluish slate, darkest or blackish on head ; white line over and behind eye; tail like back and banded with blackish bars, the last one the broadest, and the tip whitish. Entire under parts evenly marked with irregular wavy lines of gray and white, the barring usually most heavy on the flanks and underneath. Immature birds have dusky upper parts margined with chestnut, the tail brownish gray barred with black, the under parts white or buff streaked with black. Bill dark bluish. Feet yellow.

Range—Northern North America; nests from northern United States northward; winters so far south as Virginia.

Season—Permanent resident.

Another villain of deepest dye; what good can be said of it beyond that it wears handsome feathers, is a devoted mate and parent, a fearless hunter, and of some small, if disproportionate, value to the farmer in occasionally eating field mice and insects ? Whitewashing is useless in the case of a bird known to be the most destructive creature on wings. No more daring marauder prowls above the poultry yards than the goshawk that drops like a thunderbolt from a clear sky at the farmer’s very feet and carries off his chickens before his eyes. Grouse, Bob Whites, ducks, and rabbits :—in fact, all the sportsmen’s pets and innumerable songbirds, are hunted down with a dash and spirit worthy of a better motive. Bloodthirsty, delighting in killing what it often cannot eat, marvellously keen sighted, a powerful, swift flyer, aggressive, and constantly on the alert, it is small wonder all lesser birds become panic-stricken when this murderer sails within striking distance. Without a quiver of its wings it will sail and sail, apparently with the most innocent intent. Again, with strong wing beats, it will rush through the air and overtake a duck that flies at the rate of a hundred miles an hour, seize it by the throat, sever its windpipe and fly off with its burden. One very rarely sees the goshawk perching and waiting for prey to come to it. When it does so, it holds itself erect, elegant and spirited as ever. After tearing the legs off a ruffed grouse, and plucking every feather, this villain has been known to prepare another and another until five were ready for an orgie, which consisted of only fragments of each, torn with its savage beak. Mr. H. D. Minot tells of watching a goshawk press into a company of pine grosbeaks and seize one in each foot. Happily the agony is short, for a hawk’s talons penetrate the vitals.

Although a northern ranger, the goshawk nests early—in April or early May—and placing a quantity of twigs and grasses close to the trunk of a tree, anywhere from fifteen to seventy feet from the ground, both mates take turns in attending to the nursery duties after from two to four pale bluish green eggs (that fade to dull white) have been laid. Now the hawks are more audacious and vicious than ever, as their piercing cries indicate, and it is an irrepressible collector who dares rob them.