[CT Birds] Im Goshawk ID..........

Carrier Graphics carriergraphics at sbcglobal.net
Sat Dec 24 12:34:25 EST 2011

    Recently, I have received several inquiries and e-mails regarding .........
"how can you tell when you are seeing an Immature Goshawk"? 
That's a good question, and one of the most difficult ones to answer, but I will 
give it a try.

    I have through the many years of Hawk watching, not known anyone who is an 
expert at diagnosing a Goshawk right off - esp an Immature bird. Goshawks need 
time to ponder, to dwell on, and even compare with other hawks in the process. 
It seems no two Goshawks are ever alike, and to me- that is another story as 

    The Gos is a Hawk that needs time to clinch. If it looks like a Gos, it 
might be, but check again. That is what I would suggest to do every time. It's 
like - I don't even trust myself to call it as one. This is good, for i have 
witnessed many miss calls by very good hawk watchers, including myself !  But - 
it is really not their fault, because that's what Goshawks do - they confuse us.

    Now if you have a nice ADULT Goshawk sitting in a tree looking at you from 
50 feet away, with its light gray breast and diagnostic face well lit in 
sunlight, and you can even see its deep red eyes, then no problem. But most of 
us see possible Goshawks for fleeting moments, or highly back lit, or way off or 
high up circling from a distant point. These sightings are the more common, and 
take more time to clinch.

Other difficult points to ponder -

    Males and females are different sizes, as most hawks are, and this can be a 
problem when we know they are much larger than a Coop or Sharpie. Well I have 
been fooled several times when seeing a distant hawk perched in a tree, with 
characteristic Accipitor shape that I would have first said was a large female 
Coop, but later, at closer range, finding out it was a small Male Ad Goss. The 
difference in sizes of Goshawks, to me, seems to be highly variable - not only 
in size, but also in proportion and shapes.

    So if we rarely encounter Goshawks sitting quietly in a tree, the next 
chance of seeing one will often be a fleeting passer by, coming or going. If 
this be the case, then what do we look for?

    Often enough, when you first see a Goshawk, you will most likely think it a 
Buteo of some kind. It is amazing how often this is the case. I have often 
witnessed many Goshawks overlooked as being "just another Buteo”.

        An Immature Goshawk, esp when perched, can look so much like any 
Immature Buteo. The best difference then can be the bold light eye stripe. 
However, sometimes other Immature Buteos can have a slight eye stripe as well. 
So it is best to see another field mark. I like to see the bold body stripping 
which can definitely separate this species from the other two Accipators, it 
doesn't work however for many of the Immature Buteos.

Immature Goshawks back: One of the BEST field marks I use in identification of 
an Immature Goshawk is the white spotting over brown wings. This is similar to 
what we see on a Redtails back, but the Goses is a more random spotting, whereas 
a red Tails is set more in a V shape. 

The tail of a goshawk also has more bar waviness to it than most all Buteos and 
the other two accipitors. But i find this true more from the top of the tail, 
and less from the bottom. But, the tail length of a Goshawk can be discerningly 
short looking, unlike its two cousins. The Gose's tail can also look very wide, 
in fact once again very Buteo like.  

Flight: Now here is a real special way to tell this bird from other hawks. The 
flight style of a Goshawk is very much like a Buteos, but often interspersed 
with a little more flapping and gliding motion as a true accipitor does. When 
this bird is spiraling within a Thermal and the wings and tail are in full 
spread, they appear very much like a Bueto, especially a Red Shoulder who can 
also have a longish looking tail. In fact, it is one of the finer points some 
hawk watchers can feel proud of when they can ID a Goshawk from this posture 
alone. Also - study this bird in your books, especially some of the better hawk 
books. In them you will learn much of this birds finer details in plumage and 
flight styles.

So if your bird in flight gives you an impression of a Buteo, but is just not 
right, you are now on the road of identifying a Goshawk. Try to stay on it and 
verify with as many other field marks, body presentation and flight style as you 
can. This bird cries for attention to detail, and knowledge of what it is 
suppose to look like. And when you give it that attention, you just might feel 
confident in your ID.  Don't give up - sooner than later it will show its true 

Good luck - Paul Carrier

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