Australia’s most extraordinary bird, about to disappear

The red goshawk (Erythrotriorchis radiatus), Australia’s rarest bird of prey, is endangered. Cape York Peninsula is now the only place in the state of Queensland where breeding populations are known to occur. Chris MacColl, a researcher at the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Queensland, conducted research published in Ema – Southern Ornithology, who discovered the alarming situation of this animal. The scientist was shocked by the decline of these birds.

“It is endemic to Australia, so it is not found anywhere else in the world. In addition, it has only one close relative, the Bürgers goshawk (Erythrotriorchis buergersi) that lives in New Guinea. In four decades, the species has lost a third of its historical distribution area”, explains MacColl to SINC.

It is a top predator, so its presence is crucial for the balance of ecosystems and the protection of other species, according to the researcher. “The animal ensures that species further down the food chain don’t become overly abundant.”

The presence of the red goshawk is crucial for the balance of ecosystems

However, what makes it special is that it is one of the most effective “umbrella species”. “This means that if we created specific conservation reserves for these birds, they would indirectly protect many other species, as they need very large areas of habitat to survive”, points out the environmentalist.

These reserves would primarily protect “the animals of the tropical savannahs in northern Australia, including other endangered species such as the black cockatoo, northern quoll, black-footed tree vole and yellow-shouldered parrot. gold,” he says.

The research results show that the red goshawk “barely resists in 30% of the regions where it was previously known to live”, laments the author. The species is considered extinct in New South Wales and the southern half of Queensland.

The bird almost does not resist in 30% of the regions where it lived

Chris McColl

The scientist also identifies “a notable decline in North Queensland, making Cape York Peninsula the last place in the state where there are still known breeding populations”. the last remaining stronghold for the red hawk, so northern Australia is critical to its survival.”

male and female red goshawk

A male and female Red Goshawks fly over the skies over Australia. /Patrick Webster

If it becomes extinct, “northern Australia would lose an emblematic species capable of conserving vast areas of tropical savannah habitat and the biodiversity that lives in them”, warns the researcher. “The health of these ecosystems would also be impaired without the important ecological services that the red hawk provides through its predatory behaviors.”

MacColl considers it urgent to implement measures to prevent the disappearance of this emblematic animal. “The tropical savannas of northern Australia, the last place where the species is conserved, are the most extensive and intact in the world”, he says. Therefore, “increasing the protected areas in these landscapes is essential for the survival of the remaining populations of red goshawks”.

Increasing protected areas in these landscapes is essential for the red hawk’s survival.

Chris McColl

However, “the depletion of these habitats is increasing due to mining, gas and agricultural activity”, laments the environmentalist. In addition, for the correct protection of the bird of prey “it is necessary to improve the management of fires and the control of weeds in their reproduction areas”.

Professor James Watson, co-author of the article, points out that “these projects represent a real risk for a species like this, taking into account what we observe throughout its eastern range”. In this sense, he stresses that their drastic loss forces governments and communities to be proactive in conserving the remaining habitats.

The idiosyncrasy of the bird in northern Australia

This unique raptor has long captivated birdwatchers with its striking reddish-brown plumage, pronounced wingtips, heavy yellow feet and massive claws.

The bird stands out for its incredible plumage, its wings, its yellow paws and its claws.

The research team analyzed four decades of citizen sightings to uncover troubling trends. “The threats driving the red goshawk’s decline require further investigation, but we believe that habitat loss and degradation has played a key role,” says MacColl.

The authors support calls for the Commonwealth to change the national conservation status of this goshawk from ‘vulnerable’ to ‘threatened’. This change would allow it to receive a higher conservation priority.


MacColl, C. et al. “Rapid and recent collapse of Red Goshawk Erythrotriorchis radiatus from Australia”. Ema – Southern Ornithology (2023)

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