Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis atricapillus): Barry Kent MacKay

Barry Kent MacKay was a friend of my grandfather Dr. J. Murray Speirs. (Miles)

Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis atricapillus): Barry Kent MacKay

To me the Northern Goshawk is a bird of the boreal forests, the taiga, sometimes to be seen, especially in winter, further south in much of temperate North America.  But in fact it has an enormous Holarctic range.  You can find this species from Alaska to Newfoundland south well into western Mexico and from Spain, even the northwestern tip of Africa, north to the northern end of the Norse countries, including the U.K., east all the way to the Bering Sea, Korea and Japan with a disjunct population in the mountainous region of south-central Asia, with those birds wintering along China’s south coast.  There are about ten or eleven subspecies – geographic variations – recognized.  But I have always thought that birds of the eastern hemisphere were so distinctly different from our three North American subspecies that it seems surprising that they are all considered to be the same species.  At any rate I’ve shown the mostly widely distributed of the North American subspecies found throughout most of the continent.  In common with many birds of prey there is quite a bit of individual variation as well as the geographic variations.  The bird I painted is an adult male, from Ontario.

Goshawks are usually described as “fierce” predators, and certainly they are relentless, following prey into thickets, even into culverts and buildings.  Birds are the main prey but small mammals, such as Red Squirrels, are also frequently taken, however, no animal small enough to be overcome, and large enough to be worth the effort, is safe from predation by this species.  Goshawks weigh from one to about three and a half pounds, with females markedly larger than the males.

I sold this painting before I took the measurements but it is approximately life size, in oils, on compressed hardboard.  Young birds look quite different, having white breasts with brown spots and streaks, brown backs and yellow eyes.  As they mature eye colour varies, ranging from yellow to bright, ruby-red.

Barry Kent MacKay

Bird Artist, Illustrator

Studio: (905) 472 9731

31 Colonel Butler Drive

Markham, ON L3P 6B6 Canada

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