Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawk

Scientific Name: Accipiter gentilis
Classification: Raptor or bird of prey
Size: Body length – 19 to 26 inches, Wingspan – 40 to 48 inches, Females are larger than males


Goshawks are woodland raptors with rounded wings, which allow for maneuverability among trees. This species is a large hawk with a long tail and a short, dark, hooked beak. The crown and cheeks are gray-black, the back is gray, and the under parts are pale gray with fine bars. Over the eye is a thick, white stripe. Juveniles are brown above and below are whitish with dark streaks. Northern goshawks can be distinguished from other accipiters, cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks, by their paler and grayer backs, broader tail, larger size, and underparts lacking rust color.

Life Span:

Maximum lifespan in the wild is 11 years.



In north America, primary habitat is coniferous, deciduous, and mixed forests, especially in mountains. In Nevada, northern goshawks nest primarily in aspen, riparian habitat.



Northern goshawks are found in northern north America and Eurasia. Nesting occurs primarily in the western and northern united states, Canada, and Alaska. They are found as far south as northern Mexico in the winter. Northern goshawks are year-round residents in Nevada.


Natural History:

Populations of northern goshawks are generally either resident or short-distance migrants. Migration is dependent on the availability of prey. Typical flight pattern of the northern goshawk consists of several quick flaps of the wings followed by a short glide. They can also be seen soaring. Northern goshawks defend their nests aggressively from predators. They are solitary outside of the breeding season.


Food Habits:

Northern goshawks are predators that capture prey on the ground, in the air, or in vegetation. Prey items consist of small mammals, birds, other vertebrates, and occasionally insects.



Northern goshawks nest in large trees, typically within dense, mature stands. In Nevada, over 85% of nests are found in aspen and nearly all are located near water. Usually, several alternate nests can be found within one nest territory. An egg is laid every 2 to 3 days and total clutch size is 2 to 4. The female usually begins incubation after the second egg is laid and incubation continues for about 28 days. The eggs hatch asynchronously. Young are cared for by the female, while the male provides food. They begin flying at 35 to 42 days, and are completely independent by 70 days of age. Adult birds usually return to the same nest area and to the same mate in consecutive years.



Northern goshawks are listed as a “sensitive species” with the u.s. forest service, the Nevada national heritage program, and the bureau of land management. They are state protected and further classified as sensitive in Nevada. The species is also listed on appendix ii of cites, convention on international trade in endangered species. This species is given federal protection by the migratory bird treaty act.


Reason for Status:

The primary threat to the northern goshawk is habitat loss and degradation due to logging, large fires, and recreational use, leading to a reduction in nest trees, prey, and canopy cover as well as disturbance to nest sites. Grazing and illegal take or collection also affects this species. The listing of this species as a b.l.m. “sensitive species” is a result of the species “undergoing significant current or predicted downward trends,” “consisting of small and widely dispersed populations,” and “inhabiting specialized habitat.”


Management & Conservation:

Protection and rehabilitation of aspen and other mountain forest habitat is important in Nevada. Illegal take of young at nest sites is a concern in Nevada.


Fun Facts:

The northern goshawk is the largest north American member of the “true hawks” of the accipiter genus.