A weekly homage to endangered species, large and small
We’re taking a brief time out this week from our regularly scheduled programming to honor the fallen. Both the Baltimore Sun and Washington Post reported yesterday that Maryland lost its rarest breeding bird, the northern goshawk. The large female raptor was the only known nesting bird of its species in the entire state. Sadly, it was found on Friday in Savage River State Forest, apparently struck by shotgun pellets.
The northern goshawk is a forest hunter known for being very secretive and extremely protective of its nests. Goshawks have even been known to attack humans in defense of their chicks. Up to two-feet long and with a wingspan of up to four feet, the goshawk is the largest in the accipiter family. These birds of prey hunt squirrels, grouse, snowshoe hares and other mid-size birds through thick tree cover. Goshawks are abundant across North America, but Maryland forms the very southern edge of their range on the East Coast.
Though Goshawks continue to thrive elsewhere, the lost of the nesting female is a tragic blow for Maryland. The species was essentially wiped out around the turn of the century due to excessive logging in the state that disrupted much of the birds’ core habitat. They started to return in the recent years but have remained on the state endangered species list.
Like other birds of prey, goshawks help keep our forest ecosystems balanced by feeding on squirrels, rabbits and other birds that might otherwise become too abundant. Protecting the species is critical to maintaining healthy forests in North America, from Alaska down across the Rockies, and even in Maryland.
Watch this episode of Outdoors Maryland called “Piercing the Forest” on the return of goshawks to western Maryland. Biologist Dave Brinker has studied goshawks for many years, and there’s a good chance that female he trapped in this video may even have been the one that was killed last week.