The Northern Goshawk, An Esteemed Bird of Prey

Ever since medieval times this raptor has been regarded by falconers as a fearsome and beautiful hunter.

This story comes to you through a partnership between Audubon and BirdNote(r), a show that airs daily on public radio stations nationwide.

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All's quiet on a December morning in a northern Ontario forest. A long, narrow clearing affords a clear view of spruce and birch trees. Then, nervous yelps from a red squirrel interrupt the silence. And like a silver thunderbolt, a large bird of prey rushes by low to the ground, in rapid pursuit of a Ruffed Grouse. The grouse flaps madly, just eluding its pursuer by winging wildly into a dense thicket. 

The hunter flies up to perch at the edge of the clearing. It's a Northern Goshawk, one of the most fearsome and admired of all birds of prey. Silver-gray with a bold white slash above its menacing red eye, the elegant goshawk is the largest hawk of the northern forest. Since at least medieval times, falconers have regarded the goshawk as a bird of great distinction. Attila the Hun even wore its image on his helmet.

The boreal forest is a vital part of the bird's range. Yet during lean years, when Ruffed Grouse and snowshoe hare populations dip – as happens about every ten years – the scarcity of prey brings Northern Goshawks south. It's then that we're more likely to see these beautiful and fearsome hunters.

The bird calls you hear on BirdNote come from the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. To hear this show again, visit our website,

Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Northern Goshawk 105702 recorded by G.A. Keller; Red Squirrel 56723 recorded by W.W.H. Gunn.

Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson

Writer: Bob Sundstrom

© 2014 Tune In to     December 2014     Narrator:  Michael Stein


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