Phantom of the Forest

by Sara Eisenhauer
Wildlife Services Manager

VINS Wildlife Services Dept received a mystery bird earlier this month. When the patient arrived, we knew right away that it was a baby raptor – it had a sharp curved tip to its beak, and very sharp talons – but what species of raptor?? Here in our rehab dept, we feel like we’ve seen it all, but sometimes we can still get stumped. This baby raptor was no “wee” baby – it was the size of a small chicken, but had no feathers, just white fluff.  This white fluff indicated to us that it was still very young and helpless.

Stumped or not, we still had to begin the initial exam.
During the exam, I noticed a few things that were different about this bird, compared to other baby raptors we’ve seen:  first of all, its legs were quite long – longer than a Broad-winged Hawk, or a Red-tailed Hawk. Secondly, he would protest by making a “kek kek kek” sound. It sounded so familiar to me, but I just couldn’t place it.  The final clue that gave it away happened when I took a peek into the babe’s mouth – it was purplish/blue in color. Aha!! I knew right away what we had – a nestling Northern Goshawk!!
Adult Northern Goshawk
photo by jacosammie
Northern Goshawks are what I like to call “Phantom Raptors.” I know they’re here in Vermont, but I rarely get to see them, let alone witness them as babies!  Goshawks are an impressive raptor, the largest species of accipiter that is found in Vermont. They prefer to live in dense forests, and are not as common in suburban areas. They’re very fast, aggressive hunters and will pursue their prey to the point of exhaustion, sometimes even on foot! Have you ever wondered what that flash of movement is that’s going after the birds at your feeders? Or who might be trying to make a quick meal out of the chickens in your backyard? It could be the phantom Goshawk. 
Despite they’re aggressive nature, they are a vital part of our natural world, and a bird that I’ve always admired and respected.
So how’s our little Goshawk baby? Well, we did find a small fracture in his left wing, which has healed nicely. He is also eating like a champ and has begun growing in his little goshawk feathers! It will be awhile before he’s able to fend for himself in the wilderness, but we’re more than happy to help him along the way. And I’m glad that the phantom is no longer a mystery.

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