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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

Northern Goshawk -- Accipiter gentilis
(formerly Goshawk)


RANGE: Breeds from western and central Alaska and northern Yukon to Labrador and Newfoundland, south to southern Alaska, central California, southern New Mexico, western South Dakota, northern Minnesota, and northwestern Connecticut, and in the northern Appalachian Mountains. Winters throughout the breeding range may extend as far south as the Gulf States during periodic invasions related to food shortage.

STATUS: Uncommon to rare but increasing; range is expanding southward in Appalachians.

HABITAT: Inhabits mixed hardwood and coniferous forests in temperate and boreal regions, from sea level to tree line. Prefers woodlands with intermediate canopy coverage interspersed with fields or wetlands, especially in remote areas.

SPECIAL HABITAT REQUIREMENTS: Extensive mixed woodlands with large trees for nesting.

NEST: Prefers to nest in large hardwood trees 30 to 40 feet above ground, where clear, level access is afforded by a stream or other opening. Frequently selects birch, maple, aspen, and beech for nesting trees; occasionally selects juniper, pine, spruce, and fir. Usually builds a new nest each year, but may build on top of an old hawk nest.

FOOD: Hunts for prey in dense woodlands, clearings, and open fields. In one study, its diet consisted of 54 percent birds, 37 percent mammals, and 9 percent insects. Eats grouse, quail, pheasants, small hawks, owls, crows, gulls, ducks, doves, thrushes, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, mice, woodchucks, muskrats, weasels, shrews, grasshoppers, and caterpillars.

REFERENCES: Cramp and Simmons 1980, DeGraff et al. 1980, Evans in Farrand 1983a, Heintzelman 1979, Jones 1979, McAtee 1935, Shuster 1980, Terres 1980.


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