The Fastest Birds

What are the fastest birds? Those feathered animals have achieved all kinds of records. Some of them are hardly believable. Birds are the fastest creatures in the entire animal world. Yet, they usually have two speeds: “normal” for everyday life and “high” for exceptional situations. We humans also use different speeds, e.g. when strolling along to get some bread from the baker’s or running to catch the subway. Below this chart you find more information about speed measurement.

Fastest bird (nose dive) Peregrine falcon 200 mph (322 km/h) *
2nd fastest bird (nose dive) Golden eagle 198.8 mph (320 km/h)
3rd fastest bird (nose dive) Common swift 124.2 mph (200 km/h)
Fastest bird (flapping flight) ** White-throated needletail 68.3 - 105.6 mph (110 - 170 km/h)
Fastest bird (long distances) Grey-headed albatross 78.9 mph (127 km/h)
Fastest bird (short distances) Pigeon 62.1 - 74.5 mph (100 - 120 km/h)
Fastest bird (running) Ostrich 43.4 mph (70 km/h)
Fastest bird (in the water) Gentoo penguin 22.3 mph (36 km/h)
Slowest bird (long distances) American woodcock 4.9 mph (8 km/h)
Fastest wing beat Ruby-throated hummingbird 200 beats/sec

* Some sources claim that the peregrine falcon can even reach 241 mph (389 km/h). But this is still controversial and has not been proven yet.
** = Flying technique. The wings are flapped up and down; also called powered flight.

Peregrine Falcon Peregrine Falcon - Photo: Sue Robinson/Shutterstock

Stunning Capabilities

Birds are not only the fastest animals, they also fascinate us with other incredible capabilities. Hummingbirds for instance can also fly backwards. The common swift can stay up in the air for up to ten months nonstop. There are also birds that can perform loopings and somersaults in the air – just for fun or to impress their loved one.

How Can We Measure the Speed of Birds?

Mostly the speed is measured by means of radar devices similar to radar traps used in road traffic. Yet, it is very difficult to get precise results as only very few birds can be trained to fly in a straight line. Scientists even use small planes to perform intricate measurements.

How Does the Wind Influence Speed?

Strong headwind makes birds slower than some tailwind. Therefore, scientists often also use a wind gauge.

When Do Birds Fly Particularly Fast?

Of course when hunting or trying to escape, e.g. from birds of prey. When small birds are flying across large meadows they try to be reach the edge of a forest as fast as possible in order not to be detected by birds of prey. Some birds also try to impress the bird ladies with their enormous speed. When moving in flocks or on the way to their summer quarters for nesting, birds usually fly faster than when flying alone.

Nose Dive or Horizontal Flight

Even though the peregrine falcon is the fastest bird, it can be quite difficult for it to keep up with a dove. Why? Because it would have to fly horizontally down to the ground. The peregrine falcon only reaches its high speed during nose dives from great heights.

Small Bird = Slow Bird?

It is interesting that there is no relation between the size and the speed of birds. “Mini birds” such as the cute hummingbird are sometimes as fast as large geese.

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