Garreth's Wildlife Watch

Northern Goshawk

(2015-01-26) I have been extremely lucky throughout my years of involvement with the Kensington North Watersheds Association to have spent many hours in some of the nicest natural surroundings and wooded areas within the KNWSA borders. During this time, the field crew and myself have had various encounters with some of the local wildlife. But as a bird lover, particularly the birds of prey, one occasion stands out most memorably in my mind.

Our crew was doing some stream restoration in the long Barbara Weit river, the day was hot and it felt nice to be in the stream and going through a particularly well wooded area with plenty of mature hardwood trees thriving along the stream banks. The work was progressing along productively when all of a sudden there was a great eruption of noise in the treetops ahead of us, Kack-kack-kack-kack! As my eyes looked towards the sound I recognized the shape and plumage of an impressive, and intimidating female Northern Goshawk!

Northern Goshawks (A. gentilis) belong to the genus of Accipiter, and they are the largest of the Accipiters in Canada. As far as the plumage goes for the Northern Goshawk, a more appealing raptor cannot be found. The mantle of males is a steel blue with white and black -barred breast feathers. Females are a reddish brown on their mantle and also display a barring pattern on their breast plumage. Juveniles of both sexes will be a brownish colour primarily; the juveniles will receive their adult plumage if they make it past their first two years of existence in their Darwinian influenced environments. This adult plumage comes much quicker with an accipiter in relation to other larger raptor species such as a bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), which does not reach maturity and adult plumage till about four and a half to five years of age. Like all accipiters, Northern Goshawks have a highly hooked bill that is used for opening up prey species and slicing up flesh into digestible pieces. These beaks are highly complimented by the most important part of any raptor's arsenal, their talons. Northern Goshawks have extremely powerful and grippy feet that also have razor sharp and long talons attached to them, these greatly aid in catching and securing prey animals during a hunt.

A Northern Goshawk is designed perfectly for life as an apex predator in a forested or wooded environment/habitat. Their sleek wings have evolved over the millennia to enable these raptors to swoop and turn easily in a heavily forested hunting ground. Goshawks are able to tuck their wings in close to their body during moments when they must squeeze through small places, like between two trees, while they are in flight.

Northern Goshawks also have the reputation for being very territorial and willing to swoop at human intruders who get too close. With this in mind, I instructed our field crew to give this amazing creature the distance it deserved. We got to appreciate the raw beauty of this perfect hunter for a few sweet seconds, and it then she flew away and vanished from site. These birds are also notoriously stealthy.

For the rest of the summer, our crew members would often share stories of the time we saw a Goshawk! It was truly a pleasure. This species depends on mature forest stands being kept in good condition to meet its habitat needs. In PEI this type of habitat is now quite rare, therefore it is important for all Island citizens to care about the protection of prime wildlife forest habitat that we are still lucky enough to have.

About the Author

Garreth Ashley recently graduated from the Wildlife Conservation Technology program at Holland College and is currently at University. He is a former employee and also a former Board Member of Kensington North. His blog, Wildlife Watch, is a collection of his own observations of wildlife on PEI.

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