Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis)
The Northern goshawk is an uncommon raven-sized raptor, related to the Cooper’s hawk and Sharp-shin in body plan. The basic colour is blue: grey-blue under, slate-blue upper, with a black crown and the fiercest red eyes that I have ever seen. No colour picture or mounted specimen can convey the total essence of wildness that seems to surround this bird. You have to see her in action. And one unintended way of doing that is to raise poultry.
When I can, I raise free-range chickens. I like the products, mostly eggs and roast chicken, but I also enjoy their company. They are industrious, inquisitive, sociable, talkative, and when defending their young quite brave – chickens are not chicken, if you know what I mean. Contemplating a busy flock in the yard can lead to thoughts on the deeper mysteries of life, and the meaning of the universe. Danger is everywhere, for all of us, but for a chicken it often comes from overhead. Their very DNA is programmed to beware the open sky, and to seek cover when a shadow races near. I have seen this demonstrated in an unforgettable way: in my memory I have it labeled as ‘Close and Personal with a Goshawk.’
One moment I am casually watching a score of young chickens work the edge of the barnyard. The next it is as if lightning had struck: all but one disappear, with danger cries still echoing. The remaining bird is dying; on her back is a magnificent goshawk, talons working, glaring at me with a fiery red eye. She seems to say “Take this from me, if you can.” All I can do is watch as she leaves with her prey. I escort the rest of the birds back into the barn and count myself fortunate at this close encounter. At the cost of one chicken I have seen a raptor in all her glory, and I shall never forget.
Goshawks are highly aggressive, widely distributed birds. In these days when farm flocks of chickens are rare hawks are not as commonly seen away from the forest; I suspect that they take far more ruffed grouse than farm birds now. At one time they were shot on sight by almost every farmer; now they are protected and seem to be doing reasonably well. What is the value of a woodland with a pair of goshawks? To me, immeasurable.
Written by Ian MacQuarrie