Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Bird of the Month: Brown Goshawk

Posted on 23 January, 2024 by Ivan

Welcome to Bird of the month, a partnership between Connecting Country and BirdLife Castlemaine District. Each month we’re taking a close look at one special local bird species. We’re excited to join forces to deliver you a different bird each month, seasonally adjusted, and welcome suggestions from the community. We are blessed to have the brilliant Jane Rusden and Damian Kelly from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month, accompanied by Janes’s stunning photos.

Brown Goshawk (Accipiter fasciatus)

Solid looking Brown Goshawk in Campbells Creek, showing the heavy brow, long rounded tail and middle toe is similar length to other toes. Photo by Jane Rusden

Observed one morning when walking through the bush on my block, a Brown Goshawk pursued an Australian Owlet-nightjar in a fierce dog fight, flying at full speed down the gully, dodging trees by millimetres. The Brown Goshawk managed to catch the desperate Owlet-nightjar just before they saw the two humans, then they tumbled to the ground still locked together. the poor little Owlet Nightjar looked stunned and worse for wear, while the Brown Goshawk flew up into a tree, reluctant to loose it’s prey. The Owlet-nightjar at least got a bit of a breather, before both birds went their separate ways. I have no idea if the Owlet-nightjar survived the lethal body-puncturing talons of the Brown Goshawk, but the Goshawk certainly went hungry that morning.

The Brown Goshawk is one the Australia’s most widely distributed raptors and can be found across Australia and Tasmania as well as other islands, although it not as common in the very dry areas inland. It is a very versatile predator that uses a wide range of hunting techniques and can target a wide variety of prey. It will stalk grasshoppers on the ground, pursue small birds through the air and sit unobtrusively in cover, ready to glide down to catch prey on the ground. This prey ranges from insects to quail along with small rabbits, mice, lizards and snakes as well as yabbies and at times, carrion. Prey is usually 500g or less, but items such as young rabbits and reptiles up to 1kg have been known to be taken by female goshawks which are much larger than the male. Owlet-nightjars weigh 35-65g, putting them firmly in the small bird category of prey.

Choosing dinner. A Brown Goshawk terrorising rescue aviary Cockatiels, but the Cockatiels are thankfully very safe from this fearsome predator. Photo by Jane Rusden

The Goshawk is also well known for lurking around chicken coops and aviaries looking for dinner opportunities, as well as soaring up high on the lookout for prey. It is known to be a reckless and persistent hunter, chasing birds through the undergrowth, exactly like the Goshawk chasing the Owlet-nightjar down the gully, and at times will chase prey into or under buildings. Young goshawks, in particular, have a reputation for being quite reckless at times when chasing prey, dashing through dense foliage and into chicken pens.

Although quite common and widespread in both bushland and urban areas it often goes unnoticed due to its cryptic behaviour, sitting very still in foliage and silently observing with intense yellow eyes.

The introduction and spread of the rabbit along with the opening of forests has probably led to an expansion of its range since European settlement.

Nests are built usually in the fork of a tree out of sticks and foliage. 1- 5 eggs are laid (usually 2-4) and both parents will incubate and feed the young. Adults tend to be fairly sedentary but young birds have been know to spread quite long distances in their first year, with some banding re-captures over 900km from a nest site.


The Brown Goshawk can be tricky to distinguish from the closely related Collared Sparrowhawk. Although the female Goshawk is quite a bit larger at 45-55cm in length, the female Sparrowhawk (35-38cm) is almost as large as the male Goshawk (38-45cm). Colouration and habitat tend to be similar and differentiating the two species can be hard in the field, especially when you only get a fleeting glimpse of these fast and cryptic birds.

In short, the best indicators to separate them are as follows:

Find more information on Brown Goshawk, including their calls, here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

« | »