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Northern Goshawk

By Noah Austin

Forest animals as small as squirrels, and as large as crows and snowshoe hares, fear the northern goshawk. Presumably, anyway. If they don't, they should, because small animals are this fearsome raptor's meal of choice. But they'll go bigger — the northern goshawk has been known to target animals more than twice its own weight, such as foxes, geese and raccoons.

The female northern goshawk is about 10 to 25 percent larger than the male, but research on whether either sex makes a big deal about that is largely inconclusive. The bird typically thrives in old-growth forests where human activity is relatively low. In fact, the only time the secretive northern goshawk, the largest member of the Accipiter genus in North America, makes its presence known to humans is during the spring breeding season, with an undulating flight display and a gull-like call. Once "paired," a male and a female usually stay together for life, with the male doing most of the hunting for the female and young at the nest.

The northern goshawk's commitment to its romantic partner is matched by its tenacity in pursuit of prey. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology reports an instance of a goshawk pursuing a snowshoe hare for almost an hour before the hare ran into a clearing and was captured. The bird is capable of sustained horizontal speeds of up to 38 mph, and it'll follow its target on foot if the vegetation gets too thick. Its persistence has helped make it a popular choice in modern falconry.

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