An encounter with a Northern Goshawk

A recent discussion detailed some aggressive wildlife encountered.

In my years of backpacking, I’ve only had one genuinely aggressive encounter with wildlife.

The encounter was not in Montana, Wyoming, or even Maine.

From Wikipedia

The wildlife encounter was in the second-most densely populated state in the country. Where the “wilds” are typically third growth forest and suburban homes can often be seen.

It was in my home state of Rhode Island.

My only terrifying encounter with an animal was with a Northern Goshawk.

An elegant raptor that occasionally makes the northwest corner of Rhode Island home.

In April of 1999,  I was in the George Washington Management  Area.

Truthfully, a very pretty area with tall pines and hemlocks and has the feel of New England’s further reaches. An occasional birch tree is even spotted.  A pleasant hike of eight miles can be had in this (very) slightly off the beaten path area.

With a nearby covered bridge, the area is reminiscent of Vermont.

From the Rhode Island Hiking Club Meetup group

On that hike so many years ago, I remember walking along the quiet woods. I heard “Kih! Kih! Kih!“.

I looked over my shoulder and saw these two birds I have never seen before in my life.

The birds were gray and majestic looking and perched on the branches of the hemlocks that towered above.

I remember looking at them for a bit, admiring these unique birds I had not seen before, and then continuing along.

As I hiked along, I heard a WHOOSH! sound behind me.

An unexpected sound in these otherwise quiet woods.

I looked over my shoulder and saw a branch bouncing up and down behind me.  One of the birds was flying away.  The other bird was making the KIH! KIH! KIH! sounds, but not noticeably louder than before.

My pace was picked up.  I heard the WHOOSH! sound again behind me.  The same bird as before flew towards me and then flew back. Again, more KIH! KIH! KIH! sounds from the other bird.

At this point, I am RUNNING with my hiking stick and waving it over my head.  I heard another WHOOSH! sound that seemed to be mere inches from my head.

I did not look back that last time.

If I have been a bit slower in my running or took more time observing, I suspect that some talons would have become more noticeable. To put it mildly…

I remember going back to my Dad’s house later that day. The Audubon Guide he had on hand had a section on raptors.  The description of a Northern Goshawk popped up, and it fit what I saw to a  “T.”

I saw the Northern Goshawk in the George Washington Management Area as at the extreme edge of their range.

Today in 2016,  with more powerful internet tools versus 1999, various online sources confirm that while Northern Goshawks are not overly common in Rhode Island, they are still present. I suspect that  I came upon a pair of goshawks defending their nest that day.

And that is my wildlife encounter story—a near-miss with a Northern Goshawk.

The one time I was genuinely concerned about a wildlife encounter was in an obscure corner of the not-so-remote state of Rhode Island.

More info on Northern Goshawks may be found here at All About Birds.

A similar story to mine, but in nearby Connecticut.

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David Fanning
8 years ago

We had a red-wing blackbird terrorizing the neighborhood bike path last summer. And, on a trip to Canberra (the capital city of Australia) one spring, almost everyone on the bike paths was wearing a helmet with pipe cleaners sticking out of it at odd angles. This was to keep the Australian mockingbird (bigger than its US cousins) from knocking them off their bikes as they rode along. I had to re-route around a couple of nests on my ride to the lab each day.

5 years ago

I was drilled in the top of the head by a goshawk in the Lost Creek Wilderness in 2000. It left a pretty big gash on the top of my head. It hit me from behind. It came back for a second swoop. I ducked and put my poles in the air. It hit the poles. I left quickly as it eyed me up before it made a third pass.