Species Articles - Goshawk or Sparrowhawk?

Goshawk or Sparrowhawk?

Many birders have trouble separating these two species and below is a short guide which may help.  There is an excellent identification article ‘That tricky accipter’ by Mark Darlaston in the April 2008 issue of Devon Birds journal, with some great photographs that might be useful for identification purposes. Below are, two separate images which have been merged to provide a side-by-side comparison of the two species.

Female Sparrowhawk (left) and male Goshawk (right), Devon © Mark Darlaston, June 2008
Female Sparrowhawk (left) and male Goshawk (right), Devon
© Mark Darlaston, June 2008

Mark writes:

“Foreshortening has made the tail of the female Sparrowhawk (on the left) look a little shorter than in reality.

Note also:

  • The unusual square-shaped end to the tail on the male Goshawk (on the right), which should normally be rounded; this is probably due either to moult (the photo was taken in June) or the way in which the tail is being held. Normally only Sparrowhawk would show a square end to the tail.
  • The broad base to the tail on the Goshawk and slightly thinner tip to its tail; in Sparrowhawk the tail is usually thinner at its base.
  • The longer head projection in the Goshawk. On a fast-gliding bird the head will normally project in front of the bend in the wing. On Sparrowhawk the head does not project in front of the bend in the wing and is usually more tucked into the body.
  • The large area of white undertail coverts on the Goshawk are not shown by Sparrowhawk.
  • The long forearm part of wing in Goshawk compared to short forearm on Sparrowhawk.
  • The underwings are less boldly marked with barring in Goshawk compared to Sparrowhawk.

All this really emphasises that a suite of features needs to be considered in separating Goshawk from Sparrowhawk.”

26th February 2009

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