Brown Goshawk or Collared Sparrowhawk?


On Saturday 10 August 2002 I was searching for Black-chinned Honeyeaters at North Pine Park on Lake Kurwongbah near Petrie (north of Brisbane, Qld) when I spotted a couple of raptors flying through the trees. My first impression were a pair of Collared Sparrowhawk (Accipiter cirrhocephalus...abbreviated to COSH) and this was enforced when I heard them calling, being fairly used to this species on our land at Samsonvale. Fortunately I saw one bird perched and 'digiscoped' it.

Further along the track I spotted an accipiter perched on a dead-tree and took several images of it, it appeared to be very alert as if watching for prey and I managed to get a few images, after a few minutes it flew off and seconds later I noticed another bird in the same tree with its back to me, I shot one image of this bird. Whilst doing this I had no doubt that I was viewing Collared Sparrowhawk, however when I returned home and downloaded the pics, I noticed several discrepancies and thought that there was a possibility that they may have been Brown Goshawk (Accipiter fasciatus....abbreviated to BGOS). So I checked the available literature.

As these birds were both adults I really feel that I shouldn't have a problem with ID, but still have doubts. Here are some of the issues that need clarifying.

Tom Tarrant, Samsonvale, Qld 4520, Australia


Since putting the pics below on the web I've received many comments on the birds ID leading me to make a conclusion!

Read these comments after the pics and see more images of the same bird taken a week later.



Accipiter species near Petrie SE Qld 11Aug 02

First bird seen

Accipiter species near Petrie SE Qld 11Aug 02

Bird one on dead tree

Accipiter species near Petrie SE Qld 11Aug 02

Same bird

Accipiter species near Petrie SE Qld 11Aug 02

Same bird

Accipiter species near Petrie SE Qld 11Aug 02

Same bird

Accipiter species near Petrie SE Qld 11Aug 02

Bird two on dead tree


Comments Received

These are Brown Goshawks!! How's that for confidence? Your dilemma actually confirms my belief that these two species are much harder to separate than many people claim. I am constantly amazed at how easily some people are able to confidently ID these species. For several years now I have been seeing Brown Goshawks/Collared Sparrowhawks around my place at Woody Point and have spent many hours observing the actual birds as well as video and still images trying to positively ID them.

The conclusion I have come to is that I am seeing mainly Collared Sparrowhawks with the occasional Brown Goshawk. I believe I have only captured images of Collared Sparrowhawk. The attached images (no where near as good as your beauties) are of a couple of Collared Sparrowhawks, mature and juvenile, for your interest and comparison. The main feature that makes me think your birds are Brown Goshawks is the size and shape of the head and beak.

 If you have seen Bob Forsyth's ID chart for these two species he has the details of the heads (which, in my copy, he calls hawk, probably a typo) and beaks the wrong way around, I believe. The obviously notched tails on the mature bird in my attached images make them Collared Sparrowhawks (m?) so I think it is reasonable to use these to compare their heads and beaks with the birds in your images. HANZAB points out that the COSH has a smaller head (apparent in my pictures) than the BGOS. The BGOS has a stronger beak and a more 'beetled' brow than the COSH. Those two feature are apparent in my images also. The Collared Sparrowhawks I have observed have never had the obvious brow your birds exhibit but have a much more open-eyed staring look. You may notice that 'my' birds appear to have more white around the vent area than 'your' birds. I don't know if this is diagnostic; it is not mentioned in the references I have. The middle toe on 'your' birds doesn't appear to me to be extra long. I believe that the length of middle toe is a somewhat misunderstood diagnostic point. Both birds have long middle toes but the Sparrowhawk always has the longer. Whether this is observable in the field is debatable. I would suggest that a great deal of practice and therefore familiarity would be needed to be able to use this feature confidently. Measurements appear to have been taken minus the toe-nail. I have not been able to determine the exact ratio of lengths of the middle toe to the other toes of each species from my references. Have you seen Stephen Debus's condensed version of the HANZAB section on birds of prey: The Birds of Prey of Australia, a Field Guide"? It has the same colour plates as HANZAB and a field guide version of the text.
Bob Inglis

Based on nothing but the photos (missing size & flight style cues etc) I would say they are all of a BG. There is no reason why both ids could not have been correct. As I read your story you first thought you had a pair of CS, then found & photographed what certainly shows typical features of a BG. Another feature that you don't mention is the big beak is typical of BG. The CS has a much smaller beak. Rather than doubting yourself, is there any reason to doubt that both species were there and seen at different times?
Philip Veerman

I'm voting for Brown Goshawk. The `beetle brow', rounded tail & relatively normal length of the middle toe.

Chris Barnes

A reply to your request on identifying COSH and BGOS from a part of the world where both species do not occur. I have been visiting Irian Jaya/Papua regularly and observed COSH several times (as well as Australia once in suitable BGOS habitat but failed to observe it). Next, I have checked with some id-guides (Raptors of the World (RotW), HBW II, Simpson&Day)

In my opinion this is a BGOS...

COSH is of a similar structure/size as 'our' (Northern) sparrowhawk (A. nisus). Though a comparison with other birds cannot be made, your bird(s) look somewhat bigger, have a bigger head/neck.

The eyes of your bird give a much more aggressive expression with the heavy brow ridges while COSH looks somewhat silly with the open face/eyes. In all pictures this difference is obvious.

In RotW both subspecies of COSH (A.c. quaesitandus) and BGOS (A.f.didimus) of northern Australia are depicted. They are both somewhat greyer than the nominates, but still BOGS is clearly a darker bird. This seems to be the case in your bird(s). Next, A.f.didimus is said to have a squarer tail than the nominate.

The legs look strong and talons short, but everytime I look to your pictures I start doubting... Bigger fits better with BGOS.

Just as you did, I go for my first impression, recalling my observations of COSH as a more slender, agile bird I put my money on BGOS.

good luck, hope to hear how far you get,

best wishes,

Marc Argeloo

I like to try my hand at these things. As a Regional Editor in New York State, I often get to do this for out-of area birds.. Never been to Australia, but I have an American edition of Field Guide to Birds of Australia by Simpson and Day.
The plates show that the primaries of the Collared Sparrowhawk project quite a bit further down than the end of the under tail coverts when perched. On the Brown Goshawk, the primaries are about even with the end of the under tail coverts. Painters can be good or bad, but they almost always get these type of measurements correct even in the event the birds don't quite look right. They take measurements of skins to insure accuracy. Look at your field guide and then the pictures to see what I'm pointing out and to satisfy yourself
(My experience with North American accipiters is that the tail shape on a perched bird may not always be completely reliable for an ID).


The male Goshawk/female Sparrowhawk ID problem is always a problem. Fortunately we have both species about the place in Melbourne and I would say that both birds in your pictures are Brown Goshawks, going by the frowning brow-ridge in both birds and the rounded tail end. The leggy, slender look of the tercel Goshawk is typical.
(I picked up a roadkill bird some years ago and made detailed drawings - measurement showed it was a Gos in the end but I was in some doubt for a while. Some members of my art class were quite horrified!).
The middle toe in the Sparrowhawk is *really* twice as long as the side toes and it is incredibly high on the leg and the head is rounded with protuberant eyes, no brow-ridge.
In flight the Sparrowhawk has more curvy wing outline than the Goshawk, almost 'Cupid'-bow' in effect.

Anthea Fleming in Ivanhoe (Vic)

I was awaiting replies to your mail with interest having had a look at your pictures but as none were forthcoming I thought I'd have a go myself. I must stress that I've never seen either of these birds having never visited Australia but have based my comments on the only book I have on Australian birds, "A Field guide To The Birds of Australia" by Graham Pizzey, illustrated by Roy Doyle.

Having looked these birds up I can appreciate your problem. The tail is indeed rounded as in the Goshawk and not flat or slightly
forked when perched as described for the Sparrowhawk. The eye also looks like the Goshawk having that heavy browed look which gives the Goshawk the glaring face. The legs also look fairly heavy like Goshawk.
On the other hand the middle toe does look longer than the outer ones which would point to Collared Sparrowhawk. If as you say you are familiar with the call of the Sparrowhawk that should tie it up but the male Goshawk also gives the "kikiki" call but not as high pitched or as fast as the Sparrowhawk. Having never heard them I couldn't say how much of a difference there really is.
As there were two adult birds I would have assumed they would be a pair and whilst the size of the female Sparrowhawk and male Goshawk might be similar, there should be a huge difference in size between the male Sparrowhawk and the female Goshawk. Was there any noticeable difference in size between the two birds that you saw? The sizes are not really obvious in the photographs.
I don't really seem to have come to any more of a definite decision than you did but I think the size and the call would give the best

John Connolly Somerset, UK.


Surprised you're having trouble with this one! The bird is clearly a Brown Goshawk, although it's unusual for them to be as confiding as these two. Collared Sparrowhawks are in my experience much more likely to allow a close approach.
To clear up what seems to be the main point of confusion, the middle toe should be even longer for a Collared Sparrowhawk, but just as important, the legs should be much finer. In all other respects these birds look like your "classic" BGOS, esp. tail and scowling face.

Andrew Stafford

My vote goes to the Brown Goshawk.

Why do I say "Brown Goshawk"?

For several years now I have been trying to ID the Collared Sparrowhawk/Brown Goshawks that visit me from time to time at Woody Point in the south east of Queensland, Australia.
I have spent many hours studying the actual birds and the video and digital still pictures I have managed to obtain.
The pictures I have produced are nowhere near as good as the excellent images that Tom has posted on his web page: (If you haven't looked at them yet, do it now!)

The conclusion that I have come to with 'my' birds is that they are mostly Collared Sparrowhawks with the rare Brown Goshawk.
This ID has been achieved from the shape of the tail which in most cases is very 'notched' and the shape and size of the head.

To me 'Tom's' birds show the attributes of Brown Goshawk notwithstanding what he says about the centre-toe length.
The second bird (rear view only) would have to be called a Brown Goshawk based on the tail shape there being no other obvious feature to analyse.
It would be a bit hard to imagine that a Collared Sparrowhawk would wear its tail down from the usual 'squared corners with a slight (at least) notched' look to a distinctly 'rounded' look as is on this bird.

The first bird has what I would call the classic Brown Goshawk head and beak. The BGOS has a larger head and more substantial beak than the COSH (sorry Bob F. the ID chart you sent me a while back has this feature reversed).
The BGOS also has a more 'beetled' brow giving it a 'scowling' look compared to the more 'open-eyed' look of the COSH.

I think the centre toe measurement is a somewhat misunderstood and misleading feature.
Both of these species have long middle toes but the COSH has the longest.
Even though 'Tom's' bird 1 has obviously long centre toes I don't believe that makes it a COSH.
I suggest that for the BGOS the centre toe MINUS the toe-nail is roughly the length of the other toes INCLUDING the toe-nail.
For the COSH, the centre toe MINUS the toe-nail is much longer than the other toes INCLUDING the toe-nail.
I welcome comment on that statement.

Anyhow that's what I think.....

Incidentally, if you can't afford the award-winning Handbook of Australian New Zealand and Antarctic Birds (HANZAB) Vol 2 (Raptors to Lapwings) I suggest you all look for a copy of Stephen Debus's condensed version of the HANZAB bird of
prey section: "The Birds Of Prey of Australia A Field Guide".
It has the same colour plates as HANZAB and a 'field guide' version of the HANZAB text compiled in a 'pocket size' format.
Worth having.

Bob Inglis

I reckon Collared Sparrowhawk. Just down to jizz - nothing more technical than that.
Keith Betton

I have changed my mind. The bird in photos three, four and five are definitely Brown Goshawk. When I went to the museum, the size of the legs was a very noticable difference between sparrowhawk and goshawk.

Frank O'Connor Birding WA

I have had a look at the pics and go for Brown Gos. On balance it has more BG features than CS. The frown and solid overall build are very definitely BG, the tail tip is worn but seems more rounded than square.

Regarding that middle toe - if you look closely (and you have to use all the pics), the middle toe is long but not quite long enough to my mind - the terminal toe segment should not overlap with the talons of the other toes - in BG they at least overlap all but the last third to half of this segment. [Robert - remember the specimen brought in when you were last here.]

Re: the fine barring you do get some very finely barred BGs. I think that we have one or two in the QM collection from memory.

So, its a Brown Gos in my book. Anyone for a hybrid if opinions are polarised? Just kidding!

Gregory Czechura
Inquiry Centre
Queensland Museum
PO Box 3300
South Bank Qld 4101


Female Brown Goshawk (one week later 17 Aug 02)

Female Brown Goshawk (one week later 17 Aug 02)

Female Brown Goshawk (one week later 17 Aug 02)


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