Northern Goshawk

Accipiter gentilis
Northern Goshawk specimens on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

Although closely related to the common Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks, the Northern Goshawk is encountered far less frequently. This is North America’s largest ‘bird hawk’ at 20-26 inches in length, and may be distinguished by its more familiar relatives by its larger size, grey-streaked breast, and dark cheek patch. Like most species of raptors, females are larger than males. The Northern Goshawk breeds in the Canadian sub-arctic, the northern tier of the United States, and at higher elevations in the Rocky Mountains south to central Mexico. This species may be found in its breeding range all year long, although some individuals move south into the mid-Atlantic, Ohio River valley, and Great Plains in winter. This species also inhabits northern Eurasia south the Mediterranean, Central Asia, and China. Northern Goshawks inhabit dense evergreen or mixed evergreen and deciduous forests. Like all ‘bird hawks,’ this species is equipped with the long tail and short, broad wings needed to hunt birds (on the ground, in trees, or in flight) from the air. Unlike most bird hawks, however, this species also takes Snowshoe Hare (Lepus americanus) in addition to avian prey. Large numbers of Northern Goshawks may wander far south of their normal range during winter in years when hare and grouse populations are low. With the aid of binoculars, Northern Goshawks may be seen perched in trees while scanning for prey. However, they are often more easily seen in the air while moving between perches or while actively hunting. As this species hunts by sight, it is only active during the day.

DC Information

A very rare winter visitor from September to March. Found at forest edges and along ridge tops to the west of this area. The female is larger than the male.

Specimen Information

The bird on the left is an adult.  The bird on the right is a juvenile that has caught a Blue Jay.

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalizations

Accipiter gentilis

Sound from xeno-canto. XC27024 Accipiter gentilis (Northern Goshawk)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC27025 Accipiter gentilis (Northern Goshawk)