Episode 166 – Goshawk: The Ghost of The Woodlands

“…and today we’re talking about the ghost of the forest. But more on that later.”

A hare grazes in a clearing surrounded by the forest edge. An uneasy feeling comes over him, like he’s being watched. He makes for the tree line, seeking safety among the trees and shrubs. But it does him no good. Like a ghost, a predator glides through the woods, seemingly unobstructed by the leaves and branches in its flight path. An almost supernatural speed carries the raptors talons to their furry target. The goshawk is a born fighter pilot and it’s as at home in the wild blue yonder as it is in thick forest. But combination of versatility and velocity may be the edge this bird needs in Life, Death, and Taxonomy. 


  • To the layman, the goshawkeye looks just like your typical hawk. 
    • However, they have shorter, broader wings with long tails that help them maneuver through the trees
    • They also have thick, strong, yellow claws with black talons
      Their eyes are orange and their short beaks are yellow with black tips that hook at the end
  • It’s adult feathers are a mixture of light and dark greys. Their crown, cheeks, and wingtips have the darker shades while the shoulders, throat, and underside are much lighter. This is the countershading that makes them effective predators.
  • Adults also have a white stripe going across their eyes and dissipating near the back of the head. They pale as they age.
  • Juveniles are a mottled brown and are therefore often confused with hawks. 
  • Their eyes are orange

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words Measure Up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We do have a new Measure Up intro this week.

Female wingspan

  • Females are larger and have a wingspan of 108 to 127 cm (43 to 50 in).
  • How many wingspans go into the range of a Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter?
  • Hint: A helicopter’s range is how far it can fly. Helicopters can fly between 2.5 to 8 hours before needing to refuel. 
  • Answer: 458,726 goshawk wingspans. The helicopter has a range of around 362 miles (582.5 km).

Female weight

  • Females can be as much as twice the weight of males at 1,150 g (2.54 lb).
  • How many Goshawks go into a cubic meter of osmium?
  • Hint: Osmium is among the heaviest metals and it has an atomic mass of 190.23 u.
  • Answer: 19,607 goshawks. A square meter of osmium is 22,590 kilograms (49,802 pounds).

Fast Facts

  • Range: Pretty widespread. They live all across North America as well as across Europe and Asia. It’s range is a band that stretches from Alaska to Mexico and goes around the world. It loves pine forests with old, tall trees to make protected nests.
  • Diet: Like many raptors, the goshawk eats a wide variety of smaller birds and mammals. 
    • It mainly eats birds, squirrels, and rabbits
    • It shies away from fish, reptiles, and amphibians
  • Behavior:
    • They tend to make their nests as high as possible in old, tall trees
    • “While the male is building, the female perches in the vicinity, occasionally screaming, sometimes flying to inspect the nest.” – Wikipedia
    • They may also steal the nests of other birds like vultures. 
    • The female lays about 3 or 4 eggs and will defend the nest vigorously, even attacking passing humans in some cases.
    • The male will go out and bring food to a nearby branch and the female will tear off chunks to feed to the kiddos

Major Fact: The Ghost of the Woodlands 

The goshawk is built to utilize both cover and speed to hunt its prey. They like to hunt in forests and on the edges of clearing. They specifically prefer large patches of mature forests over younger forests. They hunt by switching between scanning from a perched position and short low flights that last around a minute and a half. But this perch-style hunting may be abandoned for high soring in urban environments. 

They’re among the fastest birds of prey when it comes to horizontal flight in pursuit of prey, reaching speeds of up to 38 mph. They’re often described as reckless and relentless when hunting, but how can they fly that fast in their preferred habitat. 

Goshawks have special adaptations that allow them to hunt in the forest. They’re able to deftly navigate danse vegetation, and they’re even capable of flying just a few feet off the ground. They use the trees and low flight to gain cover as they approach prey. Unlike their fellow forest hunters the owls, who utilize slow, silent flying, the goshawks just use cover and speed.

They have split second reaction time that allows them to fly through a group of trees while finding a path through tiny spaces and gaps between the green. They can also fit in tight spaces by folding their wings in like a torpedo. However, they can do this without losing any altitude because of their unique tail feathers.

They have especially long tail feathers that can splay out like a third pair of wings. When they tuck their wings in, they spread out their tail feathers to provide extra lift. When their shoulders are through they spread their wings again and bring their tail through. 

What about longer tunnels? In some cases, they can fly into a tunnel with their feet out front, when they get far enough in, they’ll kick off the bottom to gain velocity and pull themselves through. 

They also have a second transparent eyelid that they close when they fly in close to branches. The lids are thought to be used to protect their eyes like built in aviation goggles. 

Ending: So keep a sharp eye out, nest in high places, and torpedo your way through the trees like Tarzan.