Goshawk numbers 'flourishing' in New Forest after 120 year absence

The birds were thought extinct in the forest before a pair was introduced in 2002 Credit: Forestry England

A rare bird of prey once on the brink of extinction in southern England, is now 'flourishing' in the New Forest, according to experts.

After an absence of 120 years, the first pair of goshawks was reintroduced to the forest in 2002, and 45 pairs have now been recorded by Forestry England.

Goshawks are nicknamed the "Phantoms of the forest" due to their elusive nature.

Extremely agile fliers, they silently weave between trees and shrubs in pursuit of prey and are notoriously difficult to spot.

It's hoped the goshawk population will continue to spread across the south Credit: Forestry England

The organisation's Andy Page said the return of goshawks to the New Forest was a real conservation success story.

"With around forty-five pairs now in the New Forest I expect the population to significantly expand out across Hampshire and nearby Dorset over the next decade," he said.

“As a thriving apex predator today, these birds tell us a lot about the health of thisforest and the wide diversity of wildlife it supports.

"The more we learn about these fascinating birds, the more we can support a range of species across our forests.”

Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis)

The goshawk is a large hawk, similar in size to the buzzard, with a distinctive white stripe above bright reddish eyes.  

A pair of goshawks nesting in the New Forest Credit: Forestry England

With a broad wingspan of around 135 to 165cm, the adults are slate grey on top while the juveniles are brown.

The male is smaller (around 600 to 1,100g) than the female (around 900 to 2,000g) which enables them to take a wide variety of prey from within the same environment.

A team from Forestry England has spent hundreds of hours monitoring goshawk behaviour.

A nest camera was used to follow a pair of goshawks as they successfully raised and fledged three chicks at the top of one of the forest's tall trees.

It gave an insight into the birds' behaviour, including the male parent becoming concerned about the effect of the heat on his chicks during a spell of hot weather.

He was seen opening his wings and shading the chicks for long periods of time.

Evidence from the nest camera also confirmed that goshawk eat a wide variety of prey with a range of items brought into the nest to feed the young including squirrels, small birds, and small mammals.

WATCH: The New Forest goshawk nest-cam