On Friday 7th June I was invited by a good friend, Wayne Percy, to assist with the ringing of Northern Goshawk chicks in the New Forest. Wayne has spent the last 20+ years studying raptors in the forest and his claim to fame is finding the first ever breeding pair there. Since then the local raptor group has been ringing the expanding population; it was now my turn to get in on the act. Several nests had already been checked and the chicks ringed, but there were four still to do.
As we approached the first nest it was fairly obvious, both from its size and location what it was, it was also fairly obvious that the two chicks were too large to ring.
|Goshawk nest set about 18 metres up a tree. Note the large nest |
located two thirds of the way up the trunk.
The nest was massive and set about 18 metres up the tree, right next to the trunk. Moving in closer we could see our first chick, it was sat right on the edge of the nest, looking down on us as we approached. Another which looked even larger was sat just behind. Apparently a good indication of whether a bird is too large to ring is the amount of down still on the head, both these birds had none, so we didn't risk going up to the nest. We watched them briefly, and both the parents who were circling overhead, before gathering up our kit and moving to the next nest.
|Large Goshawk chick looking down on frustrated ringing group!|
Our second nest was more successful - two chicks, one male and one female were present and both looked to be a good size for ringing. The nests are always located high up in a tree and considerable effort and tree climbing skills are required. But once the chicks have been lowered to the ground and lifted out of the bag you can see that all the effort was worth it.
|My first Goshawk!|
My first Goshawk chick and what a cracker! This male had a grey iris, chestnut feathering to the head and breast and a grey mantle. The birds were surprisingly docile in the hand but I was still mindful of the fearsome looking bill and talons whilst holding them.
|Female goshawk...what an awesome bird!|
Size is always a difficult thing to gauge, and having only seen goshawks in the field before, I was very surprised by their enormous size, particularly the females that is. There is considerable sexual size dimorphism in many raptor species and in goshawks (and sparrowhawks) it is very evident. The wing span of a male ranges between 90 - 105 cm whereas a female ranges from 108 - 120 cm, for comparison the wingspan of a buzzard ranges between 110 - 130 cm. Interestingly though the tarsus of a female goshawk is larger than that of a buzzard; it takes an 'H' size ring rather than the 'G' size that the buzzard and the male goshawk takes.
|Goshawk Chick - slightly bedraggled after morning rain|
Success again at the third nest, this time three chicks, two females and a male, all downy young and a nice manageable size for ringing.
|Downy Goshawk chick, the youngest of the day but still a good weight|
Given that these birds were so easy to handle I took a pic of their tarsi to illustrate the difference in size between the male and female birds. It is quite obvious and when compared with the thumb holding one of the birds it is possible to see just how large these birds are.
|Comparison of male (upper) and female (lower) legs. |
The thumb in the top left hand corner gives a good indication of the size of these birds,
particularly the hind claw of the female
Our fourth and final nest was located on a limb at least 25m up a tree, and required some excellent climbing skills. We could not see into the nest to see whether it was occupied, but as we walked into the copse a female goshawk began calling loudly, so we had a pretty good clue that it was.
|Climbing up to the nest 25 metres up!|
And after what seemed a never ending climb to the nest, and several close passes from a female goshawk, that to be honest was more reminiscent of a macaw since it was moulting its outer tail feathers, we had three more chicks.
|Three very healthy chicks - two females in the foreground with the male at the |
back being lifted out of the weighing bag
Two more females and one male. Once again the birds were very placid and seemed to just accept what was happening around them, I wish kestrel chicks were as docile as this!
|Slightly bedraggled chick after a rain shower|
By the end of the day I had ringed eight goshawk chicks and had some fantastic views of both male and female adults. These birds look extremely fearsome but they were a delight to handle and I ended the day without so much as a scratch on me.....amazing thanks Wayne!
|Goshawk chick - it's important to keep an eye/hand on the talons!|
As a footnote to this post, on the very next day, Saturday 8th June, I was loading up my car with ringing kit to go a check my owl/kestrel boxes when a cat got in my house. The bugger ran up stairs into my bedroom and I just could not get it out! Eventually I managed to grab it but in doing so it sank its teeth into my hand and its claws into my arm. By Saturday night my arm was double its normal size and I was on antibiotics. By Monday morning I was in casualty on intravenous antibiotics and being prepared for surgery to open the wounds and clean them. After three days in hospital I was released but still have four nasty open wounds on my arms and am on antibiotics. I not sure what the moral of the story is here, but I certainly will think twice before tackling a domestic cat with my bare hands in future, but will have no hesitation in handling another goshawk!!