Variable Goshawk (Accipiter hiogaster)

Variable Goshawk

[order] ACCIPITRIFORMES | [family] Accipitridae | [latin] Accipiter hiogaster | [authority] Muller, 1841 | [UK] Variable Goshawk | [FR] Autour variable | [DE] Bunthabicht | [ES] Azor Variable | [NL] Witte Havik


Monotypic species


Members of the genus Accipiter are small and medium-sized hawks, often called Sparrow-hawks or Goshawks. The females are almost invariably much larger than the males – in some cases weighing twice as much – a level of size dimorphism only exceptionally reached in any other genus Falconiformes. Their wings are short and rounded; the tail usually quite long. They are well adapted for flying through dense bush. Bird-catching Sparrow-hawks generally have long and slender legs, with slender digits, the middle one being especially long. Goshawks are usually larger, with shorter, thicker tarsi and digits and a shorter middle digit. Some smaller species have goshawk-like feet and vice versa, making it difficult on a world-wide basis to subdivide the genus on this or any other broad basis. Although many accipiters feed upon birds moreso than do other hawks, some species take many mammals, especially squirrels; others take lizards, frogs, snakes, insects, even snails. In these species the legs and digits are sometimes slender, but short. Accipiters are rarely crested, but some have very attractive colour patterns. Black phases are present, especially in the tropical species. One in Australia has the only pure white phase. Accipiter is the largest genus in the family, having about fifty species. It is present worldwide, but is especially rich in Papua-New Guinea, where a small island like New Britain may have three to five endemic species or distinct sub-species.

Physical charateristics

The grey morph has a pale grey head and back, dark wingtips, barred grey breast and tail, and white underparts. The white morph is the only bird of prey in the world to be entirely white.

wingspan min.: 65 cm wingspan max.: 100 cm
size min.: 33 cm size max.: 50 cm
incubation min.: 31 days incubation max.: 34 days
fledging min.: 30 days fledging max.: 42 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 2  
      eggs max.: 4  


Australasia : Moluccas to New Guinea and Solomon Is.


Occurs in a broad array of habitats, including primary and tall secondary forest, forest edge, monsoon forest, savanna, scrub, and plantations. In New Guinea and adjacent islands, it frequents forest edges, monsoon forest, partly cleared areas, gallery forest in savanna, cultivated areas, and swamp edges.


Nests observed in the Port Moresby area were placed conspicuously 25-30 m high on sturdy, nearly horizontal limbs or forks in large leafless trees at the edge of forest, edge of gallery woodland, and in partly cleared areas.

Feeding habits

Feeds on birds (including fruit-doves, sandpipers, and starlings) and also takes small mammals, lizards, frogs, snakes, and large insects. This species searches for prey from an exposed perch and also jumps about among foliage and vines when seeking small animal prey.

Video Variable Goshawk


copyright: David Ascanio


This taxon is Not Recognised as a species by BirdLife International.


Non-migratory, but juveniles disperse from breeding areas

Distribution map

Variable Goshawk distribution range map

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