Hail the Goshawk

16 Feb

As I’ve started to get out and about again on my walks I have noticed the increase in raptor numbers down here in the south west of Scotland. Identification is not my strong point as I am colour blind to a degree but my interest in birds has never diminished – no doubt something to do with growing up in the countryside at a time when sparrow hawks and kestrels were prolific.

Goshawks and their like were rarities sixty years ago as gamekeepers appeared to have free reign to treat them as vermin on the big shooting estates where birds like the Goshawk and Red Kite were  almost consigned to a memory.

Female Goshawk

Female Goshawk – photograph by Chris O’Reilly.

The situation has definitely improved where large raptors are concerned but there are still too many cases coming to light of poisoning and shooting of these magnificent birds. A few years ago Buzzards appeared to be the most prolific birds of prey in this area but they are facing fierce competition for road kill from Red Kites  and Hen Harriers – Peregrine Falcons and quite a few others are to be found hunting for prey along woodland margins.

The following pics and words relating to the current situation regarding Goshawk numbers in the UK were reproduced from a recent e-mail from Ieuan Evans of the Bird Trust for Ornithology.

‘Care must be taken when separating Goshawks from the related Sparrowhawk, the latter more numerous and by far the more likely to be encountered. The BTO Bird ID video on the two species is a useful place to start and provides some very sound advice. However, if the bird is in your garden and feeding on a Blackbird, Collared Dove or Woodpigeon then it is unlikely to be a Goshawk.


The Goshawk – photograph by David Tipling.

Your chances of seeing a wild Goshawk are best during early spring, notably March to early April, when pairs may display over their chosen breeding area. Select a vantage point that provides you with a good view over a suitable piece of forest or woodland habitat and then watch for the birds. Activity peaks during early morning under fine weather and this is when the birds may be seen soaring in tight circles and, if you are lucky, plunging in a steep dive into the wood that is likely to be used for the nest. Goshawk is listed on Schedule 1 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act, so it is an offence to disturb the birds at an active nest site. Sadly, the species is still the target of egg collectors.

Monitoring Goshawks

Goshawk chick. Photograph by Mike Toms

Goshawk Chick Photograph by Mike Toms

Goshawk is not a common enough species to be monitored through core surveys like the Breeding Bird Survey, so most of the monitoring work is carried out through the efforts of Raptor Study Groups and dedicated individuals, many of whom visit the nest sites under licence to record measures of breeding success and to ring the chicks. This work has revealed that breeding tends to be earlier in southern Britain than it is further north and it has also provided valuable information on how breeding success has changed over time and between habitats. Evidence of deliberate persecution may also be gathered, adding to our understanding of the threats facing the successful re-establishment of this stunning predator.

Some 8,000 Goshawks have been ringed in Britain, virtually all of them as chicks in the nest. These have generated some 278 recoveries, including that of a male Goshawk ringed in Gloucestershire as a chick in May 1990 and found freshly dead 18 years later in the same county. The recoveries reveal a few long distance movements, including a female chick that moved 218 km from Derbyshire to Kielder Forest in Northumberland, and a Norwegian chick that was caught by a ringer at Theddlethorpe Dunes in Lincolnshire just a couple of months after leaving the nest. This Norwegian bird underlines that we do receive some immigrants from elsewhere in Europe and that at least some of the birds breeding here are likely to have arrived by natural means.’

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Posted by on February 16, 2016 in out and about


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