"Northern Woods"

Fiercely Protective
Raptor Lets Northern Woods Visitors Know When They’re Too Close

Northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis)
Northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis)

Those working in or exploring the Pennsylvania’s Northern Woods may have a startling encounter with one of its residents – the northern goshawk. That’s because the Pennsylvania Wilds sit in the raptor’s breeding range.

Outdoor enthusiasts may first hear the piercing, repetitive alarm call of the northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) and soon discover it’s agitated and about to attack. The raptor is known for being fiercely protective of its nest – it may spread its nearly four-foot wingspan and dive-bomb humans and other animals that get too close to it.

This gray bird with a bold white eyebrow usually leads a quiet life in vast mature forests, such as the Allegheny National Forest. According to the Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program, of which the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy is a partner, the northern goshawk’s distribution in the state is located north of the Clarion River in the Northern Woods region.

Foraging northern goshawks may travel through the forest in a series of short flights, according to David Yeany, a conservation planning specialist at the Conservancy. These flights are punctuated by the raptor descending on prey such as birds and squirrels from elevated hunting perches.

The raptor nests in large trees, using stick, bark and greens to make a large bowl. Its clutch size can vary from one to five eggs, which the northern goshawk boldly defends until fledging time.

The species’ range stretches throughout Canada, the western United States and the northeastern United States. Although it prefers vast tracts of forest, northern goshawks may appear in fragmented forests, according to information provided by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

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