Accipiter gentilis 

Autour des palombes

Historically the Goshawk has been one of the most persecuted birds of prey in Europe and in fact became extinct in the UK in the early 20th century although it started to reappear again in the 1960’s apparently due to both accidental and deliberate releases. It was a similar story in the rest of Europe with vast areas and regions where the Goshawk was absent. Then there was a further decrease in populations after 1945 with the use of Organochlorine pesticides, DDT being a well known example of one that had disastrous effects on the reproductive functions of certain birds. Following the prohibition of these chemicals in the 1960’s and being given full protected status in 1972 their populations have grown and they can again be found in most regions of France.


Often described as “large sparrow-hawks” the female Goshawk is about the size of a Buzzard and the male Goshawk is slightly bigger than a female Sparrow-hawk.

Both sexes have close horizontally grey barred under parts with small, black, vertical streaks on the throat and a long broadly barred grey tail with broad whitish eyebrows and piercing orange-yellow eyes. The cere (flesh at the base of the bill) is greenish-yellow and the legs are yellow.

The male is smaller than the female and has a dark patch behind the eye. The female is browner than the male and is the heaviest bird of the genus Accipiter. Overall it is a fierce looking bird and rightfully so.

Juveniles are paler and browner, with teardrop marks on their under parts and greenish eyes.

Behaviour, Habitat and Diet.

Large woodlands with clearings are the preferred habitat, either mixed or broadleaved, but they will also be found where there are scattered copses and fields with hedgerows as long as there are some large mature trees present. Goshawks are powerful birds and prey on medium to large sized birds and mammals, wood pigeons, doves, starlings, hares and rabbits being typical and they will easily overpower creatures much heavier than their own body weight. Capable of making rapid turns whilst using incredible bursts and changes of speed they relentlessly pursue their chosen victim which they grab in their powerful talons either in flight, from the ground or from trees. On open land they can pursue their prey for as far as a kilometre. They will occasionally perch using available cover, such as hedges, to take the prey completely by surprise. Once the goshawk has caught its prey in its talons it kills it with a kneading motion and will often return to a favourite perch to pluck the prey before eating it, although plucking will often take place on the ground. Flight is direct and purposeful at or a little below tree-top level, with four or five quick, sharp wing beats followed by a short glides.

They have a hunting zone of up to 2,000 hectares in summer and as much as 5,000 hectares in winter.

Above: Couple of photos of Wood pigeon "kill", probably Goshawk.


Courtship starts in February when a female attracts a male by calling when perched near a suitable nest site. The male will either build a new nest or renovate an old one which will possibly be the nest of a different species, perhaps that of a crow, a buzzard or another large bird that nests high in a prominent tree. The nest is usually situated in a three-way fork anywhere from 6 to 20 m from the ground. During this period the male will perform spectacular “roller coaster” displays high above the trees that usually finishes with a long steep dive into the breeding woods. The nests are usually high up and under good cover of a canopy of leaves that gives protection from the weather and any opportunistic predator such as a stone marten or genet should one be dumb enough to approach. Up to five eggs are laid between the end of March and the end of April at 1 or 2 day intervals between each.. Incubation properly starts after the last egg has been laid ensuring that the young are all born at nearly the same time. Incubation lasts for around 5 weeks and is only carried out by the female. Once hatched, the female will vigorously defend the nest and they have been known to attack humans. The young sprout feathers at around 18 days, by 28 days they can feed themselves; they are fully feathered by 38 days and can fly a week later. Up to the stage of feeding themselves, the male does not often approach the nest, leaving the food a short distance away and calling to the female to collect it.

Status, threats and menaces.

The most recent indications are that the populations are stable. Direct destruction still continues to pose a problem although this type of persecution continues to decline. There have been some incidences of young Goshawks being taken illegally into captivity for use in illicit falconry. The other major threat, which is on the increase, is the cutting of woodland during the period from the 15th March to the 15th July, either destroying nests or causing excessive disturbance. In addition the increases in coniferous forestry with a corresponding loss of deciduous woodland could be a cause for longer term concern.


Size: Male 49-56 cm, Female 58-64 cm.

Wingspan: Male 93-105 cm. Female 108-127 cm.

Weight: Male, 500-1100 gr. Female, 800-1350 gr.

Maximum age: 19 years.