Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
ASTUR PALUMBARIUS, Linn.
PLATE XXIII.--ADULT MALE AND YOUNG.
The Goshawk is of rare occurrence in most parts of the United States, and
the districts of North America to which it usually retires to breed are as yet
unknown. Some individuals nestle within the Union, others in the British
provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, but the greater part seem to proceed
farther north. I saw none, however, in Labrador, but was informed that they are
plentiful in the wooded parts of Newfoundland. On returning from the north,
they make their appearance in the Middle States about the beginning of
September, and after that season range to very great distances. I have found
them rather abundant in the lower parts of Kentucky and Indiana, and in severe
winters I have seen a few even in Louisiana. In the Great Pine Forest of
Pennsylvania, and at the Falls of Niagara, I have observed them breeding.
During autumn and winter, they are common in Maine, as well as in Nova Scotia,
where I have seen six or seven specimens that were procured by a single person
in the course of a season. At Pictou, Professor MACCULLOCH shewed me about a
dozen well mounted specimens of both sexes, and of different ages, which he had
procured in the neighbourhood. In that country, they prey on Hares, the Canada
Grouse, the Rutted Grouse, and Wild Ducks. In Maine, they are so daring as to
come to the very door of the farmer's house, and carry off chickens and ducks
with such rapidity as generally to elude all attempts to shoot them. When
residing in Kentucky I shot a great number of these birds, particularly one cold
winter, near Henderson, when I killed a dozen or more on the ice in Canoe Creek,
where I generally surprised them by approaching the deep banks of that stream
with caution, and not unfrequently almost above them, when their escape was
rendered rather difficult. They there caught Mallards with ease, and after
killing them turned them belly upwards, and ate only the flesh of the breast,
pulling the feathers with great neatness, and throwing them round the bird, as
if it had been plucked by the hand of man.
The flight of the Goshawk is extremely rapid and protracted. He sweeps
along the margins of the fields, through the woods, and by the edges of ponds
and rivers, with such speed as to enable him to seize his prey by merely
deviating a few yards from his course, assisting himself on such occasions by
his long tail, which, like a rudder, he throws to the right or left, upwards or
downwards, to check his progress, or enable him suddenly to alter his course.
At times he passes like a meteor through the underwood, where he secures
squirrels and hares with ease. Should a flock of Wild Pigeons pass him when on
these predatory excursions, he immediately gives chase, soon overtakes them, and
forcing his way into the very centre of the flock, scatters them in confusion,
when you may see him emerging with a bird in his talons, and diving towards the
depth of the forest to feed upon his victim. When travelling, he flies high,
with a constant beat of the wings, seldom moving in large circles like other
Hawks, and when he does this, it is only a few times, in a hurried manner, after
which he continues his journey.
Along the Atlantic coast, this species follows the numerous flocks of ducks
that are found there during autumn and winter, and greatly aids in the
destruction of Mallards, Teals, Black Ducks, and other species, in company with
the Peregrine Falcon. It is a restless bird, apparently more vigilant and
industrious than many other Hawks, and seldom alights unless to devour its prey;
nor can I recollect ever having seen one alighted for many minutes at a time
without having a bird in its talons. When thus engaged with its prey, it stands
nearly upright, and in general, when perched, it keeps itself more erect than
most species of Hawk. It is extremely expert at catching Snipes on the wing,
and so well do these birds know their insecurity, that, on his approach, they
When the Passenger Pigeons are abundant in the western country, the Goshawk
follows their close masses, and subsists upon them. A single Hawk suffices to
spread the greatest terror among their ranks, and the moment he sweeps towards a
flock, the whole immediately dive into the deepest woods, where, notwithstanding
their great speed, the marauder Succeeds in clutching the fattest. While
travelling along the Ohio, I observed several Hawks of this species in the train
of millions of these Pigeons. Towards the evening of the same day, I saw one
abandoning its course, to give chase to a large flock of Crow Blackbirds
(Quiscalus versicolor), then crossing the river. The Hawk approached them with
the swiftness of an arrow, when the Blackbirds rushed together so closely that
the flock looked like a dusky ball passing through the air. On reaching the
mass, he, with the greatest ease, seized first one, then another, and another,
giving each a squeeze with his talons, and suffering it to drop upon the water.
In this manner, he had procured four or five before the poor birds reached the
woods, into which they instantly plunged, when he gave up the chase, swept over
the water in graceful curves, and picked up the fruits of his industry, carrying
each bird singly to the shore. Reader, is this instinct or reason?
The nest of the Goshawk is placed on the branches of a tree, near the trunk
or main stem. It is of great size, and resembles that of our Crow, or some
species of Owl, being constructed of withered twigs and coarse grass, with a
lining of fibrous strips of plants resembling hemp. It is, however, much
flatter than that of the Crow. In one I found, in the month of April, three
eggs, ready to be hatched; they were of a dull bluish-white, sparingly spotted
with light reddish-brown. In another, which I found placed on a pine tree,
growing on the eastern rocky bank of the Niagara river, a few miles below the
Great Cataract, the lining was formed of withered herbaceous plants, with a few
feathers, and the eggs were four in number, of a white colour, tinged with
greenish-blue, large, much rounded, and somewhat granulated. In another nest
were four young birds, covered with buff coloured down, their legs and feet of a
pale yellowish flesh colour, the bill light blue, and the eyes pale grey. They
differed greatly in size, one being quite small compared with the rest. I am of
opinion that few breed to the south of the State of Maine.
The variations of the plumage exhibited by the Goshawk are numerous. I
have seen some with horizontal bars, of a large size, on the breast, and
blotches of white on the back and shoulders, while others had the first of these
parts covered with delicate transverse lines, the shaft of each feather being
brown or black, and were of a plain cinereous tint above. The young, which at
first have but few scattered dashes of brown beneath, are at times thickly
mottled with that, and each feather of the back and wings is broadly edged with
My opinion respecting the identity of the American Goshawk and that of
Europe, is still precisely the same as it was some years ago, when I wrote a
paper on the subject, which was published in the Edinburgh Journal of Natural
and Geographical Science. I regret differing on this point from such
ornithologists as CHARLES BONAPARTE and M. TEMMINCK; but, after due
consideration, I cannot help thinking these birds the same.
The figure of the adult was drawn at Henderson, in Kentucky, many years
ago. That of the young bird was taken from a specimen shot in the Great Pine
Forest in Pennsylvania.
ASH-COLOURED or BLACK-CAPPED HAWK, Falco atricapillus,
Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. vi. p. 80.
FALCO PALUMBARIUS, Bonap. Syn., p. 28.
AMERICAN GOSHAWK, Falco atricapillus, Nutt. Man., vol. i. p. 85.
ACCIPITER (ASTUR) PALUMBARIUS, Swains. and Rich. F. Bor. Amer.,
vol. ii. p. 39.
GOSHAWK, Falco palumbarius, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. ii. p. 241.
Adult male, dark bluish-grey above, the tail with four broad bands of
blackish-brown, the upper part of the head greyish-black; a white band, with
black lines, over the eyes; lower parts white, narrowly barred with grey, and
longitudinally streaked with dark brown. Young, brown above, the feathers edged
with reddish-white, the head and hind neck pale red, streaked with
blackish-brown, the lower parts yellowish-white, with oblong longitudinal dark
Length 24 inches; extent of wings 47.