Another Goshawk

July 9, 2022

I’ve blogged a few times about my encounters with the Northern Goshawk, a denizen of the mature forests in northern latitudes across North America and Eurasia. For some reason, the Goshawks of North America are particularly aggressive, threatening those who come in vicinity of their nests with screams, dive bombing, and occasional outright attacks.

Photo: Karen Laubenstein, USFWS

I was threatened in 2018 while walking through a popular wooded shortcut, and it was the most frightening experience I’ve had in the woods, my encounters with Mountain Lions and mama bears notwithstanding. I was not attacked, but that mama Goshawk came veerrryy close. I felt traumatized.

I’ve always wondered what I would do if a Goshawk threatened me on a trail where there was no escape route. If I was coming in from the parking lot, I could just retreat immediately. Goshawks are not predators of humans; they’re just hysterically overprotective of their nests. But what if I was on the way out? And there wasn’t a back trail?

They like open places in the deep dark woods.

A week ago, I asked myself this question after hearing what sounded to me like a Goshawk while I was relaxing at Moose Mountian Pond, a place I’ve blogged about before. I thought the sound came from across the pond, but I forgot how tricky sound can be around hills. Also, I had already hiked in, so I would have expected the Goshawk to threaten me earlier. Anyway, I thought of the perfect escape: I could just wait until dark, and then walk out unmolested. I had a headlight, and hawks cannot see in the dark. Perfect.

Photo: Kirill Lapin

To my surprise, a Goshawk did threaten me going out. I dug in my backpack for sunglasses, because then, as in the previous encounter, I was concerned about my eyes. The Goshawk came at me screaming, repeatedly flying closer and closer to my head. Despite my earlier resolution, I didn’t turn back.

In fact, I got a bit angry. I thought to myself: I’m am NOT sitting in the buggy woods next to a buggy pond for the next six hours with nothing to do because of this overreactive feathered bully. I pressed on. I prayed. I began flailing my hiking poles above my head and in front of my face. I walked quickly. The Goshawk continued darting toward me, but she couldn’t or wouldn’t break through the moving poles.

I was surprised at her persistence. It seemed like she followed me for a few hundred yards. Anyway, I scurried a long ways before she desisted. I kept moving quickly, but I didn’t see or hear any other Goshawks on the three miles out. It was the fastest hike out I’ve ever done.

Moose Mountain Pond

But this time I wasn’t traumatized. I won’t say I wasn’t frightened, but I felt okay. I didn’t feel anxious by the time I got to the car. I didn’t have nightmares or flashbacks. I didn’t play the tapes over and over again in my head. I was able to think about other things. There has been no thought of staying indoors, though I have chosen popular trails and will avoid isolated trails in the High Peaks for a few more weeks, until goslings have left the nest.

I have seen and heard probably a half dozen Goshawks in the woods, and most have not threatened me. A few weeks ago, I heard one screaming in the parking lot to the east trail to Giant Mountain, and I saw her flying around, below the canopy, but she didn’t get in my face. A friend of mine said, when I related my story, “Well, you were encroaching on their territory.” No. That’s the kind of thing a city person will say. Just no. I wasn’t bothering the Goshawk in any way, and no other human is bothering their nests, which are high up in the tallest tree. I was on public land, there for all creatures. I stood my ground.

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