Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawk, Accipiter gentilis

Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawk, Bavaria, © Jochen Fünfstück


English: Northern Goshawk
Scientific: Accipiter gentilis
German: Habicht
Spanish: Azor común
French: Autour des palombes
Italian: Astore

Taxonomy and Subspecies

The Northern Goshawk may form a superspecies with Meyer’s Goshawk Accipiter meyerianus, Henst’s Goshawk Accipiter henstii and Black Sparrowhawk Accipiter melanoleucus [GRIN 2010].

Currently 8 subspecies are recognized [GRIN 2010], of which 3 can be found in Europe:

  • A.g. gentilis in most of Europe
  • A.g. arrigoni in Corsica and Sardinia.
  • A.g. buteoides in the very north of Scandinavia and Russia.


Length: 50-60 cm
Wingspan: 100-115 cm
Weight: Males 580-870 g, Females 880-1,320 g. Heavier in northern latitudes. Female birds in Scandinavia and northern Russia may weigh up to 1,850 g. Even 2,200 g reported for females.

Maximum Age

19 years in the wild, 29 years in captivity. [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]


Goshawks breed in coniferous and deciduous [GRIN 2010]. Hunts in the forest, at the forest border or also in more open habitat, for example along hedgerows. Goshawks also hunt along rivers and in wetlands when there is enough cover to surprise their prey. In recent years the Northern Goshawk has also colonized some cities. For example, in Germany the species breeds in Berlin and Hamburg. In Berlin, the population has grown from one pair in the 1980s to about 90 pairs today [NABU Berlin 2010].


Large distribution. Can be found is most of Europe and eastwards to the Pacific Ocean. Also occurs in North America. Breeds in every European country except Ireland and Island.


Birds in central Europe are sedentary while Goshawks from eastern and northern Europe can migrate or partial migrants, probably mostly juveniles.
In Finland juveniles and adult birds were trapped from November to February [Kenward 2006], indicating that many Goshawks stay in that area even during the cold northern winter.

Breeding and Reproduction

Northern Goshawks are capable of breeding in their first year but most birds start to breed when in their third year [Mebs & Schmidt 2006].
The large nests are built on trees, often conifers. Large nests, that are used for many years can reach 160cm across by 130cm deep [Kenward 2006]. In rare occasions, when suitable trees are lacking, Goshawks can nest on the ground or close to it [Kenward 2006]. The clutch size is between 2 and 5 eggs with 3 or 4 being the most common number of eggs. Most incubation is done by the female [GRIN 2010] while the male is responsible for bringing food. Young Goshawks hatch after 38-42 days and stay in the nest for another 36-40 days but stay on perches close to the nest for another few days [GRIN 2010, Mebs & Schmidt 2006]. At this time, they are called “branchers”. After that the adults continue to bring food to the young. [Mebs & Schmidt 2006] give for 3-4 weeks for that period, [GRIN 2010] gives 6 or more weeks.

Food and hunting

Powerful hunter, especially the female which is a lot larger than the male.
The female is capable of killing large mammals like hares and large birds like grouse and raptors like buzzards and kites who are about the same size as the female Goshawk.
The Goshawk is an opportunistic hunter who takes the prey that is common and easily available in it’s territory. Most common prey are medium-sized birds like pigeons, crows, jays or thrushes and medium-sized mammals like squirrels or rabbits. Along rivers and at lakes waterfowl is common prey.
Hunts along hedgerows or forest edges or other structures that provide cover. Has broad and short wings which allow fast movements and turns within a forest.


European population approximately around 180,000 pairs [Mebs & Schmidt]. Largest population with 90,000 – 110,000 in Russia. Other countries with large populations are Germany (12,900 – 13,900), Sweden (6,000 – 8,000), Romania (5,000 – 7,000), France (4,600 – 6.500) or Spain (3,500 – 6,500) [Mebs & Schmidt 2006].


Illegal persecution is still a common problem for the Northern Goshawk in many countries. Some hunters and pigeon fanciers hat the Goshawk and kill them. Disturbance during the breeding season, for example through forestry work can be a problem.
In 2008, in Lower Austria, the regional Government allowed the legal hunting of 1000 Common Buzzards and 200 Northern Goshawks over a period of 5 years.
Studies from Berlin have shows that Goshawks, especially older birds, contain a high amount of PCB, DDE and cadmium [Mebs & Schmidt 2006].


Illegal hunting must be stopped. Hunting laws must be enforced and the Northern Goshawk – like all raptors – should be fully protected without any exceptions in all countries. Practices like the legal killing of Goshawks as done in Lower Austria must be stopped. There are absolutely no ecological or biological reasons to hunt those birds!
Further and permanent studies about the remains of pesticides and other chemical substances should be done for Goshawks (all all other raptors) to be able to stop dangerous substances and ban them.

Status IUCN/BirdLife

Least Concern (LC)

Status Global Raptor Information Network

Lower risk


[GRIN 2010] Global Raptor Information Network. 2010. Species account: Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis. Downloaded from on 7 May 2010[Kenward 2006]. Kenward, Robert (2006). The Goshawk. Poyser, London

[Mebs & Schmidt 2006] Mebs, Theodor & Schmidt, Daniel (2006). Die Greifvögel Europas, Nordafrikas und Vorderasiens. Kosmos Verlag.

[NABU Berlin 2010] Der Habicht in Berlin. Downloaded from on 8 Mai 2010.


Forsman, Dick (1999). The Raptors of Europe and the Middle East A Handbook of Field Identification. PoyserMebs, Theodor & Schmidt, Daniel (2006). Die Greifvögel Europas, Nordafrikas und Vorderasiens. Kosmos Verlag.


BirdLife Species Factsheet for the Northern Goshawk

GRIN species account for the Northern Goshawk