When I first saw patient #12-2776, I said to Wildlife Rehabilitation Manager Emily Meredith, “That is one big Cooper’s Hawk!” A short time later, when I was repeating this observation to our veterinary staff, I joked that the bird was a Cooper’s Hawk pretending to be a goshawk. As soon as I said it, a little voice in the back of my mind said, “I think you might have that backwards.”
I immediately returned to the bird’s enclosure and looked at him with fresh eyes, and in that moment I finally truly saw him. He wasn’t a big Cooper’s Hawk, he was a small Northern Goshawk, a species that is a State Candidate for being listed as threatened or endangered, and an extremely rare patient at PAWS.
In my 17 years of working at the PAWS Wildlife Center, I can only recall treating one other goshawk, and that was over 15 years ago. Adults of this species are easily identified by their striking gray and white color pattern, bold facial markings, and red eyes. Patient #12-2776 was a juvenile bird. At first glance, his brown, mottled appearance is not that different from the juveniles of a number of other species, the most similar being the Cooper’s Hawk. Still, his white eye stripe, uneven tail bands, and overall size left no doubt about his identity, just as his bedraggled feathers, thin body condition, and severe anemia left no doubt that he needed help.
The goshawk was in our care from November 4 through December 10. During that time he fully recovered from his anemia and his weight steadily climbed from 593 grams at admission to more than 800 grams right before his release.
I have seen goshawks in the wild many times, but always in remote forested areas in the foothills or mountains. Oddly, this goshawk came to us from Queen Anne Hill in Seattle, not a place you would ordinarily expect this woodland bird to be found. Migrating birds do sometimes wander into unexpected places though, and, like this bird, they often run into trouble when they do. After consulting with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) biologists, I decided to release the bird in an area that contained more promising habitat for a goshawk.
Before sunrise on December 11, I donned a headlamp and entered the goshawk’s flight enclosure. Goshawks are amazingly agile in flight, but the darkness gave me an advantage and I quickly captured the bird. I placed him in a padded transport carrier to ensure he didn’t injure himself in transit, and then I headed an hour north to meet a WDFW raptor biologist in Burlington, WA. The biologist placed a federal band on the bird’s leg, and then we released him in a forested area not far from the Skagit River. The goshawk landed on a nearby stump and paused just long enough for me to capture a few photos before he dove into the forest and was gone.