Red goshawk, Australia’s rarest bird of prey, in more trouble than we thought

The red goshawk is facing extinction with scientists calling for the Commonwealth Government to change its conservation status from “vulnerable” to “endangered” to afford the birds greater conservation priority.

An analysis of over 40 years’ worth of citizen scientist-driven data shows that the bird’s population decline is continuing at “alarming rates.”

The bird’s last strongholds are northern Queensland’s Cape York Peninsula, the Northern Territory’s “Top End”, the Kimberleys in Western Australia and the Tiwi Islands off the coast near Darwin.

Already Australia’s rarest bird of prey, the red goshawk is considered extinct in New South Wales and the southern part of Queensland.

“There has been a noticeable decline in North Queensland too, leaving Cape York Peninsula as the last place in the state still known to support breeding populations,” says University of Queensland (UQ) PhD candidate Chris MacColl, who led the research project.

“Over four decades the red goshawk has lost a third of its historical range, which is the area that’s it’s previously been known to occupy,” MacColl adds. “It’s barely hanging on in another 30 per cent of regions it has previously been known to inhabit.”

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The birds have a wingspan of 100-135 centimetres with females, weighing approximately 1.1 kilograms, larger than males, roughly 600 grams. The striking red-brown plumage of the red goshawk makes them a favourite of bird watchers.

Global NGO partnership BirdLife International estimates the total number of red goshawks is as low as 900 to 1,400 mature individuals. The birds are likely endangered due to ongoing loss and degradation of the savannah woodland habitat that the red goshawk calls home.

“An increase in agricultural, mining and gas projects across northern Australia pose a real risk to a species like this, given what we’ve observed throughout its eastern range,” says Professor James Watson.

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“Northern Australia supports the largest intact tropical savanna ecosystem in the world and hosts an abundance of biodiversity. Conservation efforts aimed at securing an emblematic species like the red goshawk in these areas will benefit many other species given the species is a top-predator,” Watson adds.

The study is published in the journal Emu – Austral Ornithology.

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