My interest in the Birds of Europe was inspired by a two week trip my husband and I made to England and Finland. In the days ahead I’ll tell you more. Meanwhile, here’s one of my favorite sightings in Finland illustrated with my very bad photos.
Last Thursday afternoon I took a walk along the paved pedestrian trail in Helsinki’s Töölönlahti Park. I was enjoying close looks at arctic terns, great crested grebes, Eurasian coots, and barnacle geese(*) when a huge flock of mew and black-headed gulls swirled above me in alarm.
The gulls were the pursuing a bird of prey that quickly landed next to the sidewalk and stood on its prey the way our red-tailed hawks do in public. The hawk was holding a wood pigeon and panting as it watched people, dogs and bicycles go by. It was an adult male northern goshawk!
In North America, goshawks avoid cities and people so I was stunned and pleased to see one so close. However the bird’s appearance confused me a bit. In North America, juvenile goshawks have yellow eyes while adults have red eyes. In Europe this bird’s bright yellow-orange eyes indicate he’s an adult.
His size fooled me, too. He’s so large that I thought he was female. The next day I learned from my bird guide, Jari Laitasalo, that male and female adult goshawks have different head plumage in Finland. Females have very pale heads so this bird’s dark head indicates he’s male.
Goshawks eat birds(**) but their favorite prey in northern Europe is the wood pigeon. Jari explained that the abundance of prey in Helsinki’s city parks has drawn goshawks and eagle owls to nest in the city center.
Not wanting to disturb this awesome bird I stood far back to take these photos with my cellphone and binoculars. After 15 minutes he was still on the prey so I gave up and walked back to the hotel. Goshawks have more stamina that I do.
(photos by Kate St. John)
* Barnacle geese were introduced in Finland and are now urban pests in Helsinki.
** The Finnish word for goshawk is kanahaukka: kana=chicken, haukka=hawk.