The Top 5 Fastest Flying Birds on the Planet (With Some Drama!)
There’s nothing as amazing for birdwatchers as watching a beautiful bird fly, swoop, and dive through the air at almost unbelievable speeds. Just how fast are those birds flying? Well, if you’re one of the five birds on this list, you’re flying at speeds that no land animal can reach. In fact, these species can fly faster than any land vehicle and even some smaller planes. Here’s what you need to know about these fascinating species.
Peregrine Falcon: The Fastest Bird Alive
The peregrine falcon is well-known for its amazingly high-speed dives, which can reach speeds of up to 242 miles or 320 kilometers per hour: that’s faster than some small personal aircraft! This speed is mostly obtained while diving, which is the peregrine’s primary form of attack. That diving speed makes them both the fastest bird and animal on the planet by far.
In fact, it’s quite a sight to see a peregrine falcon in action in the wild. They’ll fly to incredible heights, where they’ll soar for hours to find prey like ducks, shorebirds, and songbirds near rocky open country close to water sources. Once they spot prey, they’ll dive and strike with their talons, killing the prey by impact. The falcon itself has evolved to withstand this impact easily.
Tragically, the peregrine falcon was nearly on the brink of extinction after the release of the pesticide DDT, which thinned their populations considerably. Since DDT has mostly been discontinued around the world, there are now more peregrine falcons than ever! As a result, there’s a good chance you could spot one of these amazing birds in the wild.
Saker Falcon: Another Diving Speed Champion
The saker falcon is widespread throughout central Europe and towards Manchuria and is a heavily migratory bird in colder regions. Like the peregrine falcon, it is a diving bird, which means it’s capable of reaching speeds of 200 miles or 320 kilometers per hour. Its high speeds and skillful hunting has made it popular throughout its range, including in Hungary, Mongolia, and the United Arab Emirates, which have made the saker falcon their national bird.
Like many falcons, the saker is a large bird: they’re known for their amazingly large wingspan and beautiful chocolate brown plumage. They may also have a pale or sandy look with streaks that are close to pure white. If you travel to find these birds in their natural habitat, visit open grasslands near cliffs or trees, particularly spots near water (they like to spot prey hanging out in these zones).
The saker falcon has also adapted surprisingly well in urban environments, often using tall skyscrapers for nests and searching for prey throughout these regions. Like the peregrine, they’re known to soar or perch for hours, watching for prey. This patience has allowed them to thrive in areas where other birds might struggle and has kept them widespread throughout their region.
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Golden Eagle: Fast Diving, Soaring, and Flying
The golden eagle is the complete package as a predator. Large, imposing, intelligent, and fast, the golden eagle is a widespread bird across much of the world and is a common sight soaring high above many regions, looking for prey. They’re one of the fastest birds in the world on all possible fronts, reaching diving speeds of 200 miles or 320 kilometers per hour.
However, the golden eagle is also one of the fastest soaring birds in the world and can ride the winds at speeds of up to 32 miles or 52 kilometers per hour. Furthermore, they can also glide at speeds of up to 120 miles or 190 kilometers per hour. Their amazingly fast speeds are due primarily to their size and strength, which allows them to stay in the air for hours.
Interestingly, the golden eagle is known as one of the more playful birds: they’ve been seen to dive suddenly or make high-speed twists and turns for no purpose other than personal entertainment. They’ve also been spotted playing with mates during mating season, swooping, soaring, and even making sudden loops in the air for no reason beyond the pure joy of flight.
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White-Throated Needletail: Controversially Named The Fastest Bird in Flight
While the peregrine and saker falcons are capable of incredible diving speeds, they’re not the fastest in-flight birds. By that, we mean horizontal flight or flight that’s perpendicular to the ground. They’re plenty fast in the air (with the saker falcon reaching speeds of 93 miles or 150 kilometers per hour), but the white-throated needletail is most likely the fastest bird in flight.
Just how fast can they fly? It is believed that they can fly at speeds of up to 105 miles or 170 kilometers per hour. Now, it doesn’t take a careful reader to see that we’ve couched our claim a little in uncertainty. Why are we saying “it is believed” and “likely the fastest bird in flight”? Well, there’s some controversy about this claim: scientists like Dr. Per Henningson of Lund University in Sweden have stated that this claim comes from unverified evidence using a method that’s never been revealed.
As a result, Henningson and other bird scientists now believe that the common swift is the fastest in-flight bird, reaching speeds of 69.3 miles or 111 kilometers per hour horizontally and upward. Unlike the white-throated needletail’s record, the methods used to measure this speed were published and verified. Until that needletail’s speed is verified by another party, this controversy is likely to rage for some time.
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Gyrfalcon: No Slouch in the Air!
The gyrfalcon (or gyr) is the largest falcon species and is common throughout Arctic coasts, tundra areas, northern North America, and throughout the Eurosiberian area. They prefer colder temperatures and are one of the most widely respected birds of prey throughout the world. Many ancient tribes described the gyr with awe and connected it with good luck in hunting.
They might also be one of the fastest in-flight birds on the planet if the claim that the common swift is the fastest bird (as discussed above) is true, as they can reach speeds of up to 68 miles or 109 miles per hour. They’re also known as fast-diving birds, hitting speeds up to 130 miles or 209 kilometers per hour.
Until the white-throated needletail’s record is fully confirmed by more independent studies, it’s safe to say that the gyr is right up there with the fastest in-flight birds in the world. It will be interesting to see how this list might change in the future if more study on the needletail is undertaken and a better method is used to confirm its alleged flight speed.
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Wrap Up – The Fastest Flying Birds
Beautiful, majestic and quick! We hope you’ve enjoyed this post about the fastest flying birds in the world! We’ll make sure to keep you updated if new studies or records come to light!