British Columbia

Haida Gwaii's last remaining Northern goshawks threatened, biologist says

The Northern goshawk population on Haida Gwaii has less than 100 birds left — and wildlife biologist Frank Doyle is determined to protect them.

Overzealous chicken farmers, habitat loss and pressure from introduced species put birds at risk

Northern goshawks can be identified by their distinct, patterned plumage. (Steve Garvie)

Northern goshawks, predatory birds with a distinct black and white plumage, are a mainstay in cold-weather climates.

But wildlife biologist Frank Doyle says their numbers on Haida Gwaii are in dramatic decline.

And these birds are special.

"Haida Gwaii was a glacial refuge 10,000 years ago and like many of the species here, they're genetically distinct," Doyle explained.

"There are only a handful of breeding pairs where in the past, we had hundreds of pairs."

The birds do not travel to the mainland, so when they die out, they're gone forever.

It's part of a troubling global trend.

The World Wildlife Fund says the world has lost 60 per cent of its mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles since 1970 due to human activity, especially habitat loss and climate change.

B.C. is no different.

Many factors leading to decline

Doyle said there were a number of local factors leading to the hawk's population decline including habitat loss and pressure from introduced species.

Wildlife biologist Frank Doyle says the northern goshawk population on Haida Gwaii has only a handful of breeding pairs left. (Norbert Kenntner)

The hawks' main prey have historically been the grouse, he explained, as there were no squirrels or snowshoe hares on the islands like other places in North America.

"The grouse population is very low because there are 250,000 deer which were introduced to the islands. Their population has exploded and they eat the same food as grouse," he said.

With the grouse population low, the hawks have put their eye on an alternative — chickens.

"There may be a 100 people or more on Haida Gwaii [keeping chickens]," he said. "The young birds or maybe the adults go after the chickens and are potentially getting killed or injured."

Protecting the hawks

Doyle is part of a group — the Goshawk Management team — that is working to protect the birds. The team, a collaboration of Haida members, the government and researchers, have been studying the birds' breeding areas and counting them.

Doyle said while grouse numbers are low, there is enough to to support the goshawk population.

He's also advocating chicken farmers make sure the hawks can't access their chickens by properly securing their birds.

"[The goshawk] is an umbrella species. It's an indicator of the health of our ecosystem. It's culturally very important and part of our genetic diversity."

With files from Daybreak North

To listen to the interview, click on the link labelled Wildlife biologist Frank Doyle on the Northern Goshawk