Goshawk versus Corbie

The wreckage of a crow

I made an extremely heartening discovery this afternoon while moving crow traps around on the in-bye fields. I noticed a pair of crows building a nest in an ash tree in the middle of April, and I marked them down for a trap when time allowed. These trees command a fine viewpoint over the hayfields where curlews often nest, and when I first started to catch crows on the Chayne, I used to find the “sucked” eggshells of pheasants and waders littered across the green beneath the trees. The birds which use this site are often easy to catch over the course of 24 hours, but I occasionally have to sit out and shoot them if they prove to be shy of the traps.


But I arrived with a trap this afternoon to find a mess of black feathers strewn around the cleugh where the tree stands. Conducting a full forensic investigation, I soon found parts of a spine and a long shard of leg bone. Something had beaten me to this pair of crows, and I felt almost certain that this was the work of a goshawk. I wondered if the hawk had killed the hen on the nest, since the greatest concentration of feathers was vertically beneath the twiggy platform, which was already beginning to look unkempt and abandoned.

A single goshawk has been surprisingly conspicuous on the lower part of the farm this year, and I have seen it hunting several times over the rushy ground. Goshawks are renowned for their habit of killing crows, and some people argue that in a “rewilded” world, these mighty raptors would do away with the need for larsen traps. I like this idea, but I can’t quite make my peace with the impact they have on other species like black grouse. This discovery comes just a few days after I received this photograph (below) from a gamekeeper friend in Aberdeenshire who found the shattered remains of a blackcock which may well have been hit by a gos.

There are several studies into how goshawks impact on blackgame and capercaillie in Sweden, and the results are surprisingly positive – the theory is that goshawks dispel egg thieves and form part of a more balanced environment to the grouse’s favour. But at the same time, there are all kinds of complex mechanisms in the deep Scandinavian forest which mean that it’s impossible to pick these results up and apply them directly to Britain.

But also, the wreckage of a blackcock




2 thoughts on “Goshawk versus Corbie

  1. Martin Webber

    I lifted this cadaver from the middle of an established Galloway Black Grouse Lek in early March of his year. It was very fresh and I can’t think of any local bird, other than a Goshawk, that could have carried out this attack, (even though it’s, approximately, a mile from the nearest foresty). Another nail in the coffin for the declining Galloway Black Grouse. I have noted exactly the same thing in this location previously, (in winter). I assume a resident Goshawk or maybe Peregrine targets this area, (though I’ve never seen either). Just fyi, I discover them via my setter.


  2. Christopher Land

    I understood that Goshawk favoured eating crows and pigeon during their breeding season and following on from that were more likely to kill grouse at other times of year. I took this to imply that they hunted around the forest edges (closer to their nest sites) during summer when they had to provide large amounts of food for their broods but once dispersed favoured hunting moorland sites, hence their predilection for blackgame. This would of course be disputed by some experts who would deny blackgame are prey to Goshawk and indeed that blackgame are in any way a moorland bird. I could never square the idea that certain organisations prominent in blackgame conservation advocated planting woodlands on moorland for the species and stringent protection of Goshawk while at the same time were seeking to procure scarce public funding for blackgame. Perhaps this “logic” is behind the failure to move blackgame conservation forward in Southern Scotland in a meaningful way. It is very difficult to get a man who is paid not to see something to actually see it. I spent three years with such people and concluded they were incapable of making a decision to put wildlife above their own careers.

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