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Red goshawk

Common name: red goshawk

Scientific name: Erythrotriorchis radiatus

Family: Accipitridae

Animal group: raptors

Conservation status: This species is listed as Endangered in Queensland (Nature Conservation Act 1992) and is Vulnerable nationally (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999). It is ranked as a high priority under the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection Back on Track species prioritisation framework.

Description

The red goshawk is a large raptor (i.e. bird of prey) with a total body length of 45-58cm and a wingspan of 110-135cm. Its overall body colour is reddish-brown with darker mottling. Its head is pale and streaked with darker feathers. Fully extended, its wings show a series of black bands from below and it has a grey barred tail. It has long, robust yellow legs with the upper legs covered by rusty red feathers.

Habitat and distribution

The red goshawk is thought to have a very large home range covering between 50 and 220 square kilometres. It prefers a mix of vegetation types with its habitat including tall open forest, woodland, lightly treed savannah and the edge of rainforest. In partly cleared parts of eastern Queensland, it is associated with gorge and escarpment country.

It occurs in a wide coastal strip along eastern Queensland, on Cape York and across into northern Australia. Although there are confirmed sightings from central Australia it appears unlikely that they breed there. Its distribution once extended to Sydney but it is now thought to be extinct south of the New South Wales border and perhaps also in South-east Queensland (Seaton 2014). In the Northern Territory the Tiwi Islands are the stronghold for the species, supporting approximately 15 per cent of the Australian population (Woinarski et al. 2000).It is estimated that there are about 700 pairs of red goshawks nationwide, including 100 pairs on the Tiwi Islands. In Queensland, it is estimated that the population includes 25-30 pairs in the Wet Tropics bioregion, 65-70 pairs in Cape York Peninsula bioregion and about five pairs in the Mt Isa Inlier bioregion. Another three bioregions in Queensland have not been surveyed.

Some adults in south-east Australia migrate annually from the ranges down to the lowlands in winter (Czechura 1996), whereas adults in Northern Australia are not thought to migrate.

Life history and behaviour

The red goshawk is a solitary bird that usually attacks from a perch by gliding straight at its prey and chasing it down. It mainly preys on birds but will take mammals, reptiles and insects. It will also attack prey from the air and follows fires and other disturbances looking for any animals that are flushed out. It moves frequently from perch to perch when hunting and will soar for extended periods of time in search of prey.

The male red goshawk does most of the nest building, creating a large platform of dead sticks lined with twigs and green leaves. The nest is located in an exposed fork in the top quarter of a living tree between 10 and 20m above the ground. The same nest sites can be used each year.

Breeding generally occurs from September to December, with females laying one or two eggs from August to October in the south-east and May to October in the northern part of Australia. The female incubates the eggs for 39-43 days, with the eggs hatching a few days apart. The young are fully fledged after seven to eight weeks but are not fully independent for at least another ten weeks.

Threatening processes

Much of the red goshawk's habitat has been cleared for urban development, agriculture and forestry. This has also reduced the availability of large nesting trees and prey. Heavy grazing, frequent burning and the degradation of freshwater wetlands may also contribute to reducing the availability of prey for the red goshawk.

Fragmentation of habitat is highly likely to be a major threatening process in Queensland with populations being scarce wherever lowland forests have been cleared for agriculture. Nests are particularly vulnerable as they are usually found in the tallest trees that are valuable for timber, or are exposed to storm damage and other disturbances.

Recovery actions

national recovery plan for the red goshawk has been developed and recommends the following conservation management actions:

  • Monitor nest sites to determine breeding success and prevent disturbance. The plan recommends that monitoring is ongoing in order to determine territory occupancy, productivity and adult survival rates.
  • Reduce the effects of habitat fragmentation and habitat degradation by encouraging land owners to enter into voluntary conservation covenants/agreements in areas where red goshawks are located to protect both the birds and their habitat.
  • Conduct searches to identify previously unknown pairs of red goshawks, nest sites, and habitats critical for red goshawk survival.
  • Identify areas of important habitat for the red goshawk.
  • Increase community awareness about the red goshawk and conservation through educational materials.

Related information

Czechura GV. 1996. Status and distribution of the Red Goshawk Erythrotriorchis radiatus in southern Queensland. Unpublished report to the Queensland Department of Environment.

Department of Environment and Resource Management. 2012. National recovery plan for the red goshawk (Erythrotriorchis radiatus). Report to the Department of Environment, Canberra. Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management, Brisbane.

Department of Environment 2015. Erythrotriorchis radiatus Red goshawk. Species Profile and Threats Database. Department of Environment, Canberra.

Garnett ST, Szabo JK and Duntson G. 2011. The action plan for Australian birds 2010. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Victoria.

Marchant S and Higgins PJ. 1993. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand & Antarctic Birds. Volume 2. Raptors to Lapwings. Oxford University Press.

Seaton R, 2014. Survey for the Red Goshawk (Erythrotriorchis radiatus) in South East Queensland. The Sunbird. 44, 2: 52–59.

Woinarski J, Brennan K, Hempel C, Firth R and Watt F. 2000. Biodiversity Conservation on the Tiwi Islands: plants, vegetation types and terrestrial vertebrates on Melville Island. A report to the Tiwi Land Council. 

Last updated
9 June 2017