Goshawk
(Accipiter gentilis L.)

Mykola Rud'
Translation in Engl.: Yevheniia Mikheenko
Illustration: V. Kisel'ov,
John Watkins
and author

 

 

Among birds of prey
used for hunting,
this particular species
is probably the most
sought after
by falconers.



V. Kisel'ov

Notwithstanding the numerous arguments about whether the preference should be given to the hawks or to the falcons, the honour of owning and hunting with a female Goshawk, especially of light colouring, was never declined even by the most famous people of all times and nations.

In the wild the birds are widespread in Europe, Asia, North Africa and South America. As a rule they rarely nest on sites higher than 1750 m above sea level, due to relative scarceness of prey at these altitudes caused by the narrower range of species and reduced population numbers.

The folk name given to the bird by Czechs and Slovaks - Forest Hawk - accurately reflects the habitat and habits of the Goshawk in that territory. The Russian name tetereviatnik - Black-Cock Hawk - does not fully match the birds range of prey, as even when Black-Cocks are part of the Goshawks diet, they make up an insignificant fraction. In Ukrainian the bird is called velykyj jastrub - Great Hawk. Germans call it habicht, the French - pervier, and the Turkic peoples of Asia name the hawk karshyga, and the white Siberian hawk - tujhun. In Afghanistan, the falconers call the female Goshawk king and the male - prince, which reflects the exceptionally high value of the birds among local falconers, and also the perfect understanding of the level of the species value as hunting birds. In Caucasus, Georgian bazijeri*1 often mistakenly called the bird korshun (kite). However, the name became commonly used and is now widespread.

In Ukraine these settled birds inhabit all regions except the open steppe, where they are found only during winter migration. From the middle of summer to the pairing season they are often seen near farms by large cities, where they prey on pigeons and other small game. In severe winters the Goshawks hunting range widens significantly due to narrowing of the range of prey, extending even to the city landfill sites where the Goshawk hunts pigeons and raven species.

According to written records, in Caucasus (Teberdinsk Nature Reserve) the birds are settled and migrate relatively rarely, unlike the Sparrow hawk (, 1985). Adult pairs stay together throughout the calendar year, usually within the boundaries of their nesting grounds. The most intensive hunting season starts in March, prior to the breeding period and the laying of eggs.

The maximum wingspan of a Goshawk female is 395 mm, of a male - up to 348 mm (ϧ, K˦, 1962). The largest specimens can weigh up to 1.5 kg, but falconers often tell of birds weighing 2kg, although it is extremely unlikely. Sexual dimorphism is not expressed clearly, although females are larger, and the plumage on their upper body is brownish, lacking the grey tint characteristic of males. Nests are built on high trees in dense coniferous or mixed forests, and construction is started from late March to April. Three to four greenish-white eggs of uniform colouring are laid, incubated for a period of 37-38 days. One or two, or sometimes three chicks hatch, and fledglings are able to fly and leave the nest in July, although they stay nearby and are protected by their parents up until September.

During the year a significant number of the young die, most often the direct or indirect cause being human activity.
The death of young birds is evidently a major factor influencing the population numbers, although researchers have
noted that in some years certain pairs for various reasons do not lay at all (, 1985).

 

 

 

 

 

The Goshawk
is a significant competitor
and a natural enemy
to the Sparrow hawk,
which it preys on.

 

 
John Watkins ( "Practical photography", december 1996)

Apart from carrion, the Goshawk feeds on over 40 species of animals and birds.
The insects it preys on are large beetles and the mammals are squirrels, dormice, hares and rabbits.

The Goshawk hunts practically any species of birds it can catch, from the relatively small birds
such as bramblings to the large domestic geese. According to literature data, most often it preys on
( listed in order of decreasing percentage composition ) Jays, domestic hens, Rock Doves, Gargneys,
Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Great Spotted Woodpeckers and Mallards. Other bird species usually
constitute an insignificant fraction of the birds diet - 2.5% or less.

 

For a falconer training a Goshawk in urban
conditions it is usual to orientate the bird to
hunt Partridge, Hare or Duck.
These particular species of game are the most
numerous on the outskirts of large cities and
are significant as hunting trophies.
Also, in Ukraine neither the Hare nor the Duck
populations have been threatened with reduction
to a dangerous level.


M. Rud'

 

Rather, it is the other way around - in the agricultural
complex of the rural areas the Hare have multiplied rapidly
since the use of chemical pesticides has been reduced.




M. Rud'


In falconry, the Goshawk is undoubtedly popular, and is among the most productive of all known birds of prey. From historic and ancient poetic sources we can quote the reference in the Word of Igors Quest (Slovo pro Ihoriv pohid) to King (Kniaz) Ihors (Ihor-Georgij (Jurij) Sviatoslavych IX) disposition to hunting with a goshawk. In the chronicle describing the event it is stated that, while in captivity, the King passed his time in hunting with a Goshawk, guarded to prevent an attempt of escape. This gives significant, if not direct, evidence that hunting with Goshawks was popular, and widely practised by Polovtsi-kypchaky*2 - nomadic and semi-settled Turkic tribes partly subservient to the Kyivan Rus, which inhabited regions between Volga and the lands to the left, (and partly to the right) of the Dniepers lower course. It is noted in the chronicle that during King Ihors captivity, Polovtsy respected him as a warlord, did not cause him discomfort, only assigned to his company fifteen guards from among their sons, and five lords, so they made a total of twenty. But they gave him freedom to ride where he would, and to cast his Goshawk, accompanied by five or six of his own servants. The guards obeyed and respected him, and where he sent them they would do his bidding without a word.

Concerning the value and recognition of the Goshawk among todays falconers, it was said by V. K. Orlov () in his well-known book Following the White Gyrfalcon (Za belym krechetom) that: For a true falconer, owning a Goshawk is a dream. Its a hard worker. Where with a falcon you would get a couple of birds, with a goshawk you will take all five.

The Goshawk accustoms more readily to the horse and the company of a dog. It cannot, however, pursue its prey for a long distance. It must be carried to a hundred or a hundred and fifty metres - and there it wont miss its chance! It will give chase in the air, raise the bird from the water, pursue to the ground. For instance, in this way it gets the Pheasants hiding in the bushes. Among falconers of the East, semi-white Goshawks are well prized. More valued are only the wholly white birds, although they are extremely rare.

From ancient times, magical qualities have been ascribed to the white Goshawk, as well as great productiveness in hunting. This is how the well-known author D. Yrsaliev () describes the albino form of the Siberian Goshawk, called by the Kyrghyzs tujhun or ak tujhun - literally, white and, in falconry context, noble: The tujhun is the best in its hunting qualities, the strongest and the most agile of hawks. A tujhuns colouring is white, although light-grey individuals with white-speckled wing and shoulder feathers and greyish plumes are also found. According to hunters, such colouring is the transitory stage to pure white.

One can hunt with tujhun the whole day - it is very agile and therefore rarely misses its game. The word tujhun in Kyrghyz language is the symbol of agility and courage, and thus tujhuns are prized very highly. When it is rumoured that a sajatchi*3 has caught a tujhun, hunters will ride hundreds of miles to buy or simply to see the wondrous bird. For one such bird they would give a good horse or three to four rams. However, tujhuns are found very rarely indeed. As noted by G. Simakov () )(1998), referring to the statement of the greatest falconer, writer and Peoples artist *4 of Kyrghyz Ch. Imankulov (), unfortunately no tujhun was caught in Kyrghystan during the last fifteen years.

The Goshawk is cast not only at hares, ducks, pheasants and partridge but also at geese and swans (, 1966).

In the republics of Middle Asia the Goshawk is highly prized, as is the Golden Eagle. Thus, it is found in written records that passionate Kazakh falconers were ready to give nine cattle and a camel for a white bird (, , 1989; , 1998).

In the legends of munyshkeri*5, tujhun stands as a magical, almost an all-powerful bird. Issykul Kyrghyzs still believe a tujhun brings its master good fortune, as it is can catch the enchanted silver foxes. Thus, the tujhun was called kasijetu - sacred, and could be bought for 18 rams and a good horse.

Folklore researchers collecting evidence for hunting with birds of prey heard the following from the Kirghiz people:

Tujhun is the best kyraan (apt, keen bird) of white colour. It reigns above all birds of prey, in hunting takes everything its eye falls on.

Tujhun is the padishah of all birds of prey. He is the aksakal*6 to whom all birds bow their heads, until he alights on the earth. When tujhun dies, he is wrapped in a kerchief and buried where neither man nor beast walks. (, 1998).

At the same time, the ordinary Goshawk (karshyga) becomes the villain in Kazakh sayings: The Gyrfalcon is the lord of all birds (both birds of prey and others), the Peregrine - the slayer of all birds, the Goshawk - the villain of all birds (, , 1989). The disrespect and accusation in the saying is most likely due to the fact that the Goshawk, and not other birds, is oftenest seen stealing chicks and full-grown domestic birds.

It is interesting that in Japan hunting with birds of prey is restricted solely to the use of the Goshawk, and there are only a few references to the use of the Kumataka Eagle when hunting Hare.

In the Kyivan Rus from the oldest of times the tradition of hunting with a Goshawk was deeply rooted in day-to-day customs until the union with Muscovy and the establishment of slave ownership. According to folklore sources, the Heroes and Kings cast it at the Hare and the Duck. A Hare hunt with a Goshawk is depicted in the frescoes of the Kyiv Cathedral of St. Sophia, the building and decoration of which is dated to XI century.

Some settlements in Ukraine (e.g. the Yastrubychi village, Lviv region) have names which bear evidence to the former falconer specialisation of its residents, showing that the locals have long lived by game taken in the autumn season of the birds mass migrations. Apart from prized Duck down for pillows and mattresses, and Hare pelts for clothing, this allowed preserving substantial quantities of smoked food for the winter months that would keep a long time.

Unlike the Sparrow hawk, the Goshawk is capable of hunting at relatively low temperatures, so it is able to not only feed itself but provide game for the falconers table for a long time. From the authors experience an example can be given when a Goshawk belonging to the Kyiv falconer A. Tereshchuk displayed well at -23C and with a strong side wind.

Unlike falcons, which attack their prey with a blow from the top, or, rather less frequently but also characteristically, from below, the hawks sweep over their prey and grasp it with their talons. It is widely thought that hunting with the hawk can never match the beauty of the falcon hunt. For this reason A. Tereshchuk has developed a way of training the hawk which is very similar to that used with the falcons. It is called putting the hawk on the circle (stavyty jastruba na kolo), and according to it, the hawk, like the falcon, is cast from the hand and, gaining height, observes the movements of the man or the dog. As prey appears the bird attacks it in a way that is not unlike the falcons but is nevertheless characteristic of the hawk. The greatest advantage of the method is seen when hunting with a hound. Currently only members of the Kyiv school of hunting with hawks (Anatolij and Vitalij Tereshchuk) have mastered the described process of training. Unfortunately, developing a coherent method of training the Goshawk for mastering this technique has been undertaken by very few people, as it demands thorough work with the bird by a highly skilled falconer.

Among the negative traits of the Goshawk is its tendency to alight onto electric power lines, which is often fatal. Due to this experienced falconers usually cast the bird well away from these potentiallly hazardous structures.

In the last few years the worldwide interest in the Goshawk has grown significantly. Most highly prized are large birds regardless of their sex, because many falconers are attempting to interbreed large specimens as their offspring would be more productive. One can imagine the potential of hunting with Goshawk females artificially bred to weigh more than 2kg that have massive talons with great capacity (large distance between the tips of the claws) and thus are able to deal a death stroke to a large Hare, a Duck or a Pheasant. The use of such a bird may be particularly successful at the numerous hunting grounds in Ukraine as well as countries of Western Europe.

The first attempts of breeding the Goshawk having been successful, the selective breeders are now aiming to get fast and powerful offspring with excellent hunting qualities and thus valuable hunting and aesthetic characteristics. Further selection may give highly successful results in breeding large specimens with hunting qualities of the high level expected - determination in pursuit, speed in chase and accuracy in attack, thus minimising the number of failed attacks which are now only too common in falconry practice.

However, achievement of substantial results in this direction cannot be rapid due to the fact that technology of breeding is still being developed, particularly the aspect of preparation of the pairs for the breeding season. The aims noted above are currently rather a long-term perspective. However, it must be noted that such long-term aims are already being considered and theoretically justified by the leading falconers in the field of experimental breeding with the aim of receiving offspring possessing the required characteristics.

 


M. Rud'

Footnotes

1. Bazijeri Georgian, Adzhar or Abkhazian falconers who cast the Goshawk at quail during its winter migration.

2. The designation land of Polovtsy (zemlia polovetska) was first found in the Word of Igors Quest.
Kypchaky was a native tribe name of Turko-Iranian origin derived from kej (kai) meaning king and pshak (pchak) meaning knife, sword.

3. Sajatchi (from Arabian sajad meaning hunter) - a hunter; in this context a falconer hunting with the Goshawk.

4. Peoples artist a title awarded in the former USSR for outstanding achievement in the performing arts.

5. Mun(u)yshkeri (Kyrghyz) falconers, in this context those hunting with the Goshawk.

6. Aksakal - in Turkic (Kyrghyz, Kazakh, Karakalpak) literally white-bearded one, meaning a wise elder.
Derived from ak white and sak(h)al beard.

Literature

., . . , 1989 (. ).
. . . 129. - . . . .1985.
ϧ .., ˦ .. Ȧ ( ), . , ɧ, 1962.
. . . . "" 1991.
. . ( ), -., 1998.
. , , 1966.

Ukrainian magazine "Naturalist"