Accipiter gentilis

The Northern Goshawk: the pirate of the wilderness

     With that name that heads the title of this article, Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente called the Northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis), the most ferocious and fearsome hunter among the birds of prey in our fauna. Master in surprise attack, it is especially fast and precise because it has a size and power that allow it to capture a wide variety of species such as squirrels, hares, rabbits, corvids, pigeons, partridges, starlings, thrushes, blackbirds… those it catches thanks to its physiognomy adapted to the forest, where it lives. Their rounded wings and long tail allow them to make sudden changes of direction when pursuing their victims.

     To describe the hunting technique he uses, what better way to remember than to remember the masterful words of his friend Félix: “His favorite technique is stalking, placing himself on a clear and dominant branch. But he not only spies and attacks the animals he discovers nearby, but also those he sees far away. From the top of a slope, he will launch himself, stuck to the ground, without moving a feather, to the bottom of the valley, suddenly emerging from the undergrowth, a few feet from the prey; Then, it’s too late to escape. Inexplicably, one of his claws always meets the victim’s head and closes like a deadly trap. He kills by compression or by piercing the vital brain centers or the heart with his long nails. He does not touch the prey with his beak until all movement ceases; If it is not too big, transport it to pluck it and eat it in a safe place. The only resource for birds or mammals to save themselves from these sudden attacks is immobility; Everyone knows it very well and puts it into practice. Wherever the goshawk passes, in hunting flight, it is as if death were passing by.

Northern goshawk in the fog

And I can say of all this that I have witnessed first-hand, because there have been many hours, months and long seasons of dedication, observation and a lot of patience hidden within the most intricate of the forest, within the inaccessible conglomerate of Mediterranean gorse thickets, mastic, cistus and kermes oaks, in short within the habitat of the pirate of the thicket. This jewel of our Iberian fauna kept me awake at night, and for a long time it became an obsession for me.

If I normally work thoroughly on each image, this one could not be any different. I studied their habits in theory and then applied that knowledge to my experience in nature. I spent many days in the forest simply with binoculars, hiding, listening to his cry or if I was lucky seeing him. I discovered their pluckers where they transport their prey there whenever they can, and then usually eat it on a high branch.

     Once I had delimited its territory, I looked for a clearing in the forest where I could set up a hiding place made of camouflage fabric and dry branches. I did it at night to avoid being seen and so that the animal could not be suspicious. After several weeks our friend appeared on my land where I immortalized him forever with my camera.

These long months passed by at the speed of light when the goshawk looked at me before disappearing.

     Working with this species has been one of the most fascinating experiences I have had in nature. Sometimes behind a photograph there are sensations that must be read between the lines and I assure you that the best of this experience, as on so many other occasions, can never be captured on any CCD of any camera. Some days when I went to check how everything was going, bright eyes followed me from the bushes and… Well, I better keep all this to myself.

Playing your song:

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