A shy woodland bird, most easily detected during its sky-dance display flights over its territory from January to April. Goshawks can be confused with Sparrow hawks, but are much larger with relatively longer, thinner wings, a bigger head and the pale stripe over the eye is more prominent. Males are some 20 per cent smaller than females and are blue-grey above with horizontal grey stripes below giving them a pale grey appearance. Females, which are the size of a buzzard, are brownish-grey above and the stripes on the underside are also brown. Young birds are generally much browner.
Early records are unreliable as the goshawk was confused with both Sparrow hawk and Peregrine. It was already a rare bird, largely confined to Scotland by the early 1800s, and appears to have become extinct by the end of that century. They began to nest sporadically from the 1920s, probably as a result of escaped falconers’ birds. The species was breeding regularly 50 years ago and the population expanded rapidly during the 1970s due to escapes and deliberate releases. The population is now self-sustaining and has continued to increase. Maturing post-war conifer plantations, especially in Scotland and Wales, favour them and because of their retiring nature the population is likely to be underestimated. A bird of large mature conifer forests, but will hunt in open country close to woodland. In the lowlands it nests in smaller woods in well-wooded countryside.
The species now breeds throughout south and central England, as far north as Yorkshire and in parts of East Anglia. It is widespread throughout Wales and in the south of Scotland and around the Moray Firth. It builds its own nest or renovates an old one in a large tree 10 to 20 metres above ground.
Its diet consists of birds, including pigeons, crows, game birds, and mammals, especially rabbits and squirrels. Its prey is taken after a short dashing flight often from a concealed perch.