Editor’s note: The Courier Express, in collaboration with Lola M. Smith, MS, lecturer in biology at Penn State DuBois, is republishing a series of work completed by college students about endangered species in Pennsylvania. References for the work, similar to a college research paper, are credited at the end for each article.
Accipiter gentilis, or the northern goshawk, is one of the newest endangered species in Pennsylvania, as it was added to the state endangered list in 2021 (PGC 2022). They are the largest hawks in the genus, Accipiter, and tend to be roughly 22–24 inches in length head to tail (USFWS 2022). To identify a perched adult, they have brown to slate gray plumage, with a distinct black cap on their head (USFWS 2022). Additionally, adults have a distinct white supercilium, or eyebrow directly above a red colored eye (PGC 2022). If you see them flying, adults have light under parts with black vertical streaks, and a white fluffy underside to their tail (USFWS 2022). Juvenile northern goshawks have deep brown back plumage and large amounts of white and brown streaking on their underside (USFWS 2022). Northern goshawks are opportunistic feeders, eating anything that is available (PGC 2022). They most commonly eat medium sized mammals, but will also take down medium sized birds, such as crows and woodpeckers (PGC 2022).
Northern goshawks prefer contiguous northern hardwood and conifer stands (PGC 2015). Contiguous forests are large amounts of unseparated forests. (PGC 2015). Northern goshawks require large tracks of dense old growth which allows them to safely nest and creates an open understory to hunt efficiently (PGC 2015). Their specific habitat requirement is the most likely reason why the northern goshawk has become endangered in Pennsylvania (PGC 2015). Forest fragmentation, or the separation of large tracks of forests into smaller tracks of forest by urbanization, results in a major loss of suitable habitat for the northern goshawk (PGC 2015). Gas lines, coal, oil, or wind development in forested areas are all major contributors to forest fragmentation in Pennsylvania (PGC 2015). Northern goshawks face hardships other than forest fragmentation, but the loss of habitat leaves goshawks without a place to nest and hunt, and the population has suffered.
Without contiguous forests, populations have plummeted. Currently, there are only 10-13 annually occupied territories, or nesting sites, in Pennsylvania (PGC 2022). The current Pennsylvania conservation goal for the species is to recover the nesting population to at least 75 nesting pairs statewide, with a 75% nesting success rate (PGC 2015). At the state level, this can be achieved through maintaining contiguous forests along the hawks’ known migration paths, and by creating more ideal habitat (PGC 2015). For those at home, this can be achieved by maintaining connected forests on your property. If you have a large tract of connected forest, keep it connected, as species like the northern goshawk will benefit, and can be saved from it. There are not many northern goshawks left in Pennsylvania, and without a significant change, one of the largest and most charismatic hawks in Pennsylvania will no longer make Pennsylvania its home.
Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC). 2022. Northern Goshawk Species Profile. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. https://www.pgc.pa.gov/Wildlife/EndangeredandThreatened/Pages/Northern-Goshawk.aspx. Retrieval date: September 20, 2022.
Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC). 2015. Pennsylvania State Wildlife Action Plan Species of Greatest Conservation Need Species Accounts. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. https://www.pgc.pa.gov/Wildlife/WildlifeActionPlan/Documents/SWAP-CHAPTER-1-apx14a-birds.pdf. Retrieval date: September 20, 2022.
United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). 2022. Northern Goshawk. https://www.fws.gov/species/northern-goshawk-accipiter-gentilis. Retrieval date: September 20, 2022.