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Goshawk Refresher

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Friday, December 27, 2013 

My original post on this subject had lots of nice color photos of Goshawks, and the B&W composite below, and I thought to myself -- why am I showing these color photos when the composite is the only thing I want to show? Goshawks are easy to identify in pictures showing all the field marks, but in the field with less than ideal views…maybe not so easy? Knowing how to identify Goshawks in flight is absolutely a matter of experience, there is no trick -- the more you see and study, the more familiar you become with them! But knowing the key ID traits helps speed the learning process.

The absolute #1 thing to look for is the shape of the wings. Goshawks have broad wings that taper toward the tips, and in some poses look like "broad-winged falcons", but in a soar show a nice angle where the base of the wings meet the hands. The tail is always long giving it that classic accipiter look! Adults are shorter-tailed but still look like the classic accipiter in most poses. The other trait that is important is the way they flap. Goshawks can flap their wings confusingly quickly (often smaller males), or labored and somewhat slowly (often larger females), but the wing beats are not snappy and weak (like Sharpy) or stiff (like Cooper's), but "fluid". I'm not going to say tail shape is useless, but it is far less helpful when separating them from Cooper's Hawks. Both can appear as "broad-tailed" as the other, but Goshawks vary more in regards to tail tip shape (rounded, squared, or wedged). Goshawks often appear slightly smaller-headed than large Cooper's Hawks, but male Cooper's Hawks after look tiny-headed.

Anyway, wing shape and wing beat are the keys to Goshawk ID in flight with less than ideal views! And here's a color photo of the juvenile plumage for those who want to file it.

7 Comments:
Anonymous Derek Lyon said...

This really helps, thanks for the tips. I always seem to have trouble with them, especially when I'm on the road and only get only a quick look. I often will see one just like in your picture (the top two right ones) and I usually end up second guessing what I saw and convince myself it was a juvie RT.
They never seem common enough to learn them at any hawkwatch I've been to. Do you recommend any watches?

December 27, 2013 at 10:36 AM  
Blogger Jerry Liguori said...

Hawk Ridge in Duluth MN is by far the best site. Braddock Bay and especially Derby Hill in NY are good sites in spring

December 27, 2013 at 7:44 PM  
Blogger Mia McPherson said...

Thanks for the great tips Jerry. I wish I saw Goshawks more often than I do, perhaps I need to spend more time in the habitat they prefer.

December 28, 2013 at 5:34 AM  
Blogger Jerry Liguori said...

Thanks Mia -- I stay away from the birds in summer since the forest is so dense, but please join us at Bountiful Peak in fall when they are flying, That is the best place to see them...I know its not your favorite way to watch birds, but Shyloh and I will make your day.

December 28, 2013 at 8:59 AM  
Blogger Mia McPherson said...

Jerry, I know that you and Shyloh would make my day, it always does when I get to see you or Shyloh. I get a happy dance going on because you are both so wonderful!

December 28, 2013 at 12:35 PM  
Blogger Jerry Liguori said...

Thanks Mia, but I admit that Shyloh is more loveable!!!!

December 28, 2013 at 12:37 PM  
Blogger Mia McPherson said...

Jerry, Shyloh is a fountain... a fountain of bubbling joy.

December 29, 2013 at 11:07 AM  

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