Goshawk with rabbit kill

‘Tales of ‘The Big Finn’ and ‘Little Jerry’.

Alan Gates.

First Published in the Falconers & Raptor Conservation Magazine Autumn 1995

To start with I had intended to title this article “Full Circle” on account that I had returned after twenty odd years to flying a goshawk.
The goshawk was my first real hunting hawk and although I had flown a few, mainly passagers, it was a small male eyas German that had impressed me the most.
Finally, somehow the time seemed right and I succumbed to the urge that I had in the past been able to suppress. Once again to hunt with a gos.
I looked for a bird of the year, was totally unsuccessful and gave up. Then quite by chance, ‘Ken’ a falconry friend rang one day, and mentioned he had seen an advert for a pair of adult goshawks for sale. He was looking for an Goshawk, dog and falconeradult male to go into a breeding enclosure with his egg laying female German gos, would I be interested in the adult female of this pair ?.
Somehow I had set my mind on an eyas, a clean book so to speak. I was not so sure of an adult of unknown history, “oh what the heck if she looks good “.
Sure enough she did, and so did the male, so Ken was pleased.
Adult GoshawkIt was the middle of June when we plucked her from the enclosure and as she had no flights in the blood I jessed her and gentle manned her. Soon she was relaxing on the bowperch, in the shade of fruit trees on the weathering lawn.
Once out in the field it was evident that during her idle years in the enclosure she had not lost any of that gos magic, her head darting from side to side as we worked cover, she would almost launch an attack at the flick of a jenny wren’s wing.
Ken’s German female gos was now along side a new male in the breeding enclosure, and he was now about to fulfil his desire to fly a Finnish goshawk. He had been lucky to obtain a big female at the end of the previous season, and had flown her for a few weeks before putting her down to moult in which time she had taken a handful of rabbits. He was impressed with her determined style and had been eager for the coming season all summer.
Ken had failed to find a suitable name for his Scandinavian beauty and so I Finnish goshawknicknamed her ‘The Big Finn’. She topped three pounds on the scales and flew around two twelve, no need to be exact she was so dammed determined she would pursue with vigour with a couple more ounces on her breast.
Flying the two gosses it was evident that their tactics and attitude towards quarry was very different. ‘Little Jerry’ as my female German gos became known was not an outstanding performer, little wonder really as she had languished the last four years in idyllic surroundings of a breeding enclosure with food dropping in at predetermine times. She had a definite liking for feathered quarry, nothing unusual there, most European goshawks seem to be pro pheasants. Her tactics were more dirty tricks than style, fly low and as undetected as possible, slip over a hedge and smack!, as well as dropping from trees and crashing into cover. Although she had no staying power for the long pursuit, if she had not made contact within the first twenty yards of a flush she would pull off. I have had goshawks that would ease off the speed after twenty or so yards and just follow a pheasant at a safe distance, then when the quarry dropped into cover the gos would take stand above. As soon as the pheasant moved it would drop from above. Another dirty tactic but often very effective.
‘The Big Finn’s’ pursuit of pheasants was a different story altogether, the first pheasant I witnessed, the flushed bird left the ground almost vertical, a large powerful cock, straight up it went and headed for a row of tall conifers about thirty feet high and not much further away from where we stood. ‘The Finn’ was off the fist almost as soon as the pheasant broke cover and kept very close to the pheasant, just as the pair clipped the top of the conifers I saw the ‘Finn’ swipe out with a foot at the pheasant. That one got away, it was one of the few lucky ones.
Goshawk from Finland‘The Big Finn’ would fly pheasants at their break neck speed, in fact often she would out fly them and whip them out of the sky.
She would sustain the speed as long as the pheasant would say airborne, she just harassed the bird until it could continue no longer and had to drop into cover. The Finn would just crash straight in after it and more often than not was successful. We were always amazed that she was never out of breath, she must have a pair of lungs like barrage balloons, in fact we thanked our luck that pheasants never flew more than five or six hundred yards before ditching in.
Rabbits are always fun and ‘Little Jerry’ had some very bad luck, twice she has been pulled down holes. Turned inside out like a blown out umbrella, the last time she was jammed tight as a drum deeper than I could quite reach. I had to remove some earth at the entrance to get myself deeper in and pull her out. I thought her luck had changed when on what turned out to be her last flight of the season, I saw her bowl over a grey fur ball in the woods. When I reached her she had a very furious dog squirrel, luckily he had set his teeth into the leather around the eyelet of her anklet and I quickly dispatched him before he could do any serious damage.
Unlike ‘Jerry’ where the rabbits often wriggled free leaving her with a foot full of fur, ‘The Big Finn’ would hit them with such force that on occasions clouds of fur would float on the wind as though dozen dandelion clocks had been blown together.
She took rabbits with ease and none ever wriggled free of her grip, although this season she had one or two flights at brown hare she did not make contact, given enough opportunities she has the tenacity and determination to succeed.
The Finn caught a pile more quarry than Little Jerry, allowing for the fact that the difference in size of the two hawks and that Little Jerry never really got in top notch condition, nothing could equal The Big Finn’s bloody determined pursuit of game. Her performance is exhilarating and leaves many a seasoned falconer speechless, she typifies the true spirit of The Goshawk.