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.

Terror of the Forest

November 6, 2020

The return of large tracts of mature forest in the eastern United States has meant the resurgence of two fierce creatures: the Fisher and Northern Goshawk. I wrote about the Fisher here. I have had the distinction of having been seriously threatened by both animals, although neither made contact.

I wrote about my encounter with the Goshawk for Moon Books Blog back in 2018, but the pictures got messed up when they changed the website. Here is another one.

Photo: US Forest Service

To be fair, I’ve had plenty of encounters with Goshawks and Fishers where I did not feel threatened. Fishers, especially, have snarled at me from their perches in the lower branches of trees, but I stepped away to relieve their distress, not because I was in danger.

The Goshawk is a favorite falconry bird, because she is large and agile. Whenever I encounter a hawk or falcon in meditation, I feel an overpowering urge to take up falconry. Then I come out of my trance and realize I don’t have what it takes to commit to a feathered familiar. They require a great deal of time and attention, and most raptors are long-lived. So I continue cultivating my relationship on a metaphysical plane.

Photo: Emily Brouwer, US National Park Service

When I hear that ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki in the forest, however, I respectfully back away. That encounter with the Goshawk was the most frightening experience I have had, worse even than meeting that Mountain Lion that refused to back off. I have a theory that an aggressive encounter with an animal can transfer power, even if it feels uncomfortable at the time. Certainly there are some encounters that change a person forever.

First Harvest Blessings

August 3, 2018

Goshawk nest in birch tree. Photo: Jensens

Well, the goshawks, reportedly, have flown the nest. The trail is open and people report traveling unmolested. Not sure when I’ll walk that path alone again.

I heard reports last month of two other trails in the county where Northern Goshawks were threatening mountain bikers. The prevalence of goshawks in the Adirondacks has been a matter of speculation for years, with one theory being that they are too shy to give an accurate count. But now it seems that for one month out of the year they are more than willing to make their presence known. I wonder if numbers are recovering or if we’re having an irruption. Time will tell.

Here are some fun facts I learned about the Northern Goshawk.

1) They have such strong talons and are so aggressive that they’ve been known to pierce bicycle helmets in attack.

2) They hunt starlings, which is a major point in their favor. While starlings are famous for their accomplished singing skills, in North America they are an invasive species. Starlings are loud and obnoxious in large groups.

3) Goshawks kill a lot of Blue Jays and keep that native species in check.

4) They like to consume their prey on the ground and don’t have a lot of enemies (unsurprisingly).

5) People are more likely to be attacked when hiking solitary, although this year groups, including groups with dogs, have been attacked.

Things are returning to normal in the village. People are reporting nuisance bears who have learned to open garage doors, but that’s an ongoing problem, and at least the bears run away when they’re confronted.