The goshawk is one of the most beautiful birds of prey in the world and there are many different species found in a variety of different climates and habitats.
The Grey Goshawk however is native to Australia and Tasmania, and isn’t found anywhere else in the world, making this morph of the goshawk one of the rarest sights and making it difficult to see except perhaps in captivity in other parts of the world.
The grey goshawk is very distinctive even among the goshawk species and there are many defining features that make them interesting.
In this guide we’re going to look at all of the key things to know about the Grey Goshawk, including its appearance, behavior, breeding and nesting habits as well as their range, predators and conservation status.
There’s plenty to learn about these fascinating birds, so let’s get right into it!
The Grey Goshawk is a very powerfully built bird, but despite this it’s only a mid-sized bird of prey in the Accpiptridae family. So despite its powerful body, this bird isn’t as large as some other raptors that can be found in other parts of the world.
However the Grey Goshawk is the largest of all the Accipiters found on Mainland Australia, measuring around 40 to 55 cm or 16 to 22 inches in length, with a wingspan of 70 to 110 cm (28 to 43 inches).
This makes them one of the biggest birds in Australia, and the biggest bird of prey in Australia, which means it’s not a small bird by any means, and can hold its own among some of the most dangerous and unique wildlife found anywhere in the world.
As its name suggests, this bird has a pale grey head and back, with a barred grey chest and a barred grey tail and white underparts.
The wingtips are a darker coloration and this can be seen on both the interior and exterior of the wing, and can help distinguish this bird from other closely related goshawk species.
The bird has yellow legs and brown eyes, and can also have silver in the tail.
The Grey Goshawk is a morph, however there is also a white Goshawk which is a different kind of morph and is actually the only bird of prey in the world to be entirely white!
Male Vs. Female
Distinguishing the males from females for this particular species is actually not as difficult as it may appear, as females are substantially larger than males, weighing around 720g on average (sometimes up to 990g) compared to the much smaller 355g for males.
In terms of coloration and bills there is little to separate males and females, and it can be difficult to distinguish size at a distance so spotting males and females can be challenging to the untrained eye, however when these birds are together it can be quite simple to spot males from the females.
Are They Aggressive?
As a bird of prey these birds can be territorial and are natural hunters, making them fairly aggressive when pursuing prey.
They will tend to hunt opportunistically primarily though, and have a wide range of potential prey.
Interestingly, unlike a lot of other species, the larger size of the females means that they can select larger prey than the male birds, meaning they can show more aggression and are willing to hunt more ambitiously.
While their powerful size has the disadvantage of making this species less agile than other species such as the brown goshawk, their power makes them capable of handling much larger prey and can take advantage of a much wider range of hunting opportunities.
What Adaptations Do They Have?
The grey goshawk is one of the most powerful of all the goshawk species and this adaptation has likely become the case due to the abundance of larger prey that Australia offers, from snakes to other birds and large insects.
The grey coloration is an adaptation or morph, although it’s not clear why this color change is present, and the same can be said for the white morph found on Tasmania also.
The breeding season begins in August and can continue until December, however most eggs are laid during September and October.
The eggs are usually laid in clutches of three, and both the male and female will incubate the eggs, helping to take the burden of gathering food and maintaining the eggs temperature off a single individual.
It’s most common for females to incubate a little more however, and for males to spend more time hunting and bringing food to the nest.
Males will seldom visit the nest except to bring food or to incubate the eggs in the absence of the mother.
If a female dies, it’s been known for males to abandon the eggs and to instead find a new mate entirely, indicating how unsustainable it is for a single bird to maintain all the responsibilities of raising a clutch.
When the birds hatch they are mostly attended to by the female, and the male spends little time near the nest, spending most of the time finding food for the hatchlings and the mother.
The mother will feed the young from her own mouth.
Typically, the time it takes between the laying of the first egg and the fledgling phase takes around two months, but can be a little longer on some occasions.
Calls And Sounds
The calls of this species differ quite a bit between males and females.
The males have a high pitched call that sounds like ‘kleek-kleek’ and is repeated up to 20 times in succession, while the female calls are much slower than the males, and are not as high pitched.
Most calling is done during the breeding season to attract mates.
What Do They Eat/Diet
These birds are large enough and powerful enough to take advantage of a wide array of prey opportunities, from mammals such as bats, rabbits, and possums to insects, small reptiles and even other birds.
In fact, smaller birds make up the majority of the diet for grey goshawks. Males, due to their smaller size, will tend to stick to small passerine birds, while females will prey on larger birds such as gamebirds and herons as well as megapodes.
Pigeons and parrots are also prey to the grey goshawk.
Hunting is mostly achieved using stealth but this species has the power and the talons to pursue their prey and catch it effectively with their claws if they need to.
Where Do They Live/Habitat
The grey goshawk is mostly found in coastal areas of Australia, particularly in the north and east. The white morph is more dominant in areas of open forest in the north west and totally dominates Tasmania, where no Grey Goshawks dwell.
The Grey Goshawk prefers the thicker tropical forests found on the east of the continent.
What Are Their Nesting Habits?
The nest is usually built inside of large Eucalyptus trees, at the extremity of a large, horizontal limb.
Nests can be found very high up, even as high as 60 feet above ground. The nest itself is a flat platform made of small sticks and lined with fine leaves, and is built by the birds themselves.
Both males and females build the nest, and will break twigs off of dead branches to find the perfect material for their nest.
The time it takes to prepare a nest can vary, and if repairing an old nest the construction may only require a few weeks, while building a new nest can take up to two months.
How Long Do They Live/Lifespan
The average lifespan of this species in the wild is thought to be around 7 to 10 years, and adults have an 83% year to year survival rate.
What Predators Do They Have?
There aren’t any natural predators for the grey goshawk, due to its power and size. It’s the king of the upper rainforest in eastern Australia and the biggest of the birds of prey, meaning few other species can threaten it without endangering itself.
What Are Their Feathers Like?
The feathers range from small and white to quite large and silvery grey, and can show patterns and different colors in certain light.
The feathers are neat and trim and are fairly smooth, although they are quite strong as they need to support the significant weight of this species.
What Does Their Poop Look Like?
The scat of this bird is likely to change depending on its diet, and few studies have been done on the typical consistency of this bird’s poop which makes it difficult to say what the poop of this bird will look like.
Do They Migrate?
This bird is sedentary and doesn’t migrate due to the fairly consistent conditions of its climate, however younger birds will roam quite widely around their main habitat in search of new areas to settle and breed.
The international conservation status of this species is listed as least concern, which means it isn’t in any immediate danger of extinction, however in Tasmania the species is listed as Endangered due to the prevalence of the White Goshawk.
As with all tropical birds, their habitats are threatened by deforestation and climate change, so while in no immediate danger, their future survival is far from certain.
This is the largest Accipiter in all of Australia!