Measuring an animal’s true flight speed is complex. And when something is difficult, it’s often tempting to just make it up, or guess instead. However, there are two different ways to measure flight speed: level flight (the speed it takes to fly in a straight line) and diving flight (the speed at which the bird plunges down to kill its prey). The latter type of flight is generally much faster, but for obvious reasons, it can only be sustained for a few seconds at a time.
For the sake of accuracy, we used only verified sources and studies to bring you the definitive top ten fastest flying birds (animals) in the air, in the world.
Fastest Birds In The World
10. Canvasback – 115 km/h (73 mph)
Canvasback is a diving duck that inhabits in Marshes and Swamps across North America. They have a wingspan of 34 inches. In flight, they could achieve a maximum speed of 73 mph.
It’s a migratory bird. They start migration at the start of winter, towards the Great Lakes, located between the borders of U.S and Canada. They fly in a ‘V’ shaped formation while migrating.
9. Red-breasted Merganser – 129km/h (80 mph)
The red-breasted merganser is a type of sawbill duck with a long, serrated bill and crest feathers around the head. Like many other waterfowl, it prefers to breed in northern climates and then travels toward warmer coastal climates in the winter.
One study recorded the maximum flight speed of the red-breasted merganser at around 80 mph. When the wind was accounted for, the bird actually clocked in at around 100 mph. This makes it the fastest duck species in the entire world. However, it can only maintain such speeds for very short periods of time.
This speedy duck is a diver, searching beneath the water’s surface for fish, frogs, crustaceans, and even insects. Sometimes it even works with other red-breasted mergansers for its food, circling up, and taking turns swimming underwater to catch a treat with its saw-shaped bill.
8. Rock Dove (pigeon) – 150km/h (89 mph)
Pigeons are no doubt fast, and this measurement does have some backing behind it since it was recorded electronically from a chip attached to a racing pigeon, which covered a distance of 329km at an average speed of 143 kmph (89 mph).
From this confirmed data, it’s expected the bird hit maximum speeds of up to 160 kmph, making it the fastest-recorded bird.
Pigeons are commonly attributed with some of the top flying speeds in the animal kingdom, but outside of racing birds, there’s a lack of concrete evidence of just how fast they can fly.
7. Eurasian Hobby – 161km/h (100 mph)
The Eurasian hobby is a small, slender species of falcon that breeds in Europe and Asia and then migrates as far south as the tip of Africa for the winter. This bird of prey has a very fast diving motion. As it swoops down to capture its prey, it can achieve diving speeds of nearly 100 mph.
But perhaps the most remarkable fact about this bird is its exquisite mid-air control. Its maneuverability is so refined that a male can pass food to the female in mid-flight as part of its courtship display.
6. White-throated Needletail – 170 km/h (105 mph)
The white-throated needletail, which gets its name from the sharp, needle-like feathers at the end of the tail, is actually a species of large swift. Due to its spiky look, it was formerly known as the spine-tailed swift and sometimes nicknamed storm bird.
Hailing from East Asia, it spends a great deal of time in the air, feeding on small flying insects. It prefers to live in rocky ridges, forests, and hills, building its nests inside cracked rocks or crags on a hillside. This bird is able to cling to vertical planes without a problem.
Based on one study, this species can supposedly reach speeds of around 105 mph. However, the actual methods used to measure the bird’s speed have never been published, according to the BBC, so this figure has yet to be fully verified. It has been called the fastest-flying bird while not diving.
5. Red-tailed Hawk – 190 km/h (120 mph)
The red-tailed hawk, which can be found all over the North American continent, from Alaska to Panama, is not the fastest flyer on this list. It can only achieve conventional flying speeds of about 20 to 40 mph. But when it spots prey, this bird will suddenly spring into action and dive down at speeds of more than 120 mph.
The red-tailed hawk is an opportunistic hunter that will eat almost anything, but its favorite meal appears to be rodents and other small mammals. It is aided in this effort by sharp eyesight (about eight times as powerful as a human’s vision), which can spot a mouse from some 100 feet away. Snakes and rodents, beware! The 1.33-inch long talons of the red-tailed hawk are quite formidable.
4. Gyrfalcon – 209km/h (130 mph)
Gyrfalcons are known for their high speed dive and long pointed wings. Gyrfalcons are the largest falcon in the world. They can have a length between 20-24 inches and weight up to 1.3 kg. They dive steeply to catch the prey from great heights. During a dive, a gyrfalcon could reach a maximum speed of 130 mph. Gyrfalcons also has exceptional control over their speedy dive.
The dive of gyrfalcons includes many phases. They increase or decrease the speed by changing the position of their wings. The gyrfalcons have broad pointed wings. Their wingspan measures 50 inches in length from one tip to another.
3. Golden Eagle – 322km/h (200 mph)
Golden eagle is the largest raptor in North America. This powerful eagle has a length between 26-40 inches and weigh up to 7 kg. Golden eagles also have a wingspan 2.3 meters. Its average flight speed of around 28 to 32 mph may not seem that impressive. They dive upon their prey from the great heights and during a dive, golden eagles can suddenly leap upon its prey with a dizzying dive speed approaching 150 to 200 mph.
With the long, broad wings golden eagles can soar in the air for a long time. They also have a very strong vision and can spot the prey from great heights. Once a golden eagle spot its prey, the eagle dive upon the prey with an astonishing speed. With great speed of the dive and sharp talons they easily snatch up the prey. Golden eagles can also fly at an attitude of 10000-15000 feet.
Its raw size comes at the cost of some agility and maneuverability though. It cannot quite catch a particularly fast-moving bird in mid-flight. But it is capable of killing slower prey as large as a sheep or goat.
2. Saker Falcon – 322km/h (200 mph)
The endangered saker falcon patrols the open grasslands of Eurasia and Africa to feed on smaller rodents and birds. This fearsome predator swoops down on prey with a dive speed of up to 200 mph and paralyzes it with a quick strike. When in normal flight, it can also achieve a maximum speed of around 93 mph.
The saker falcon is such an important element of some cultures that it was named the national bird of Mongolia and Hungary.
1. Peregrine Falcon – 389 km/h (242 mph)
With a top speed of 242 mph, peregrine falcon is the fastest living creature on Earth. It is a most common bird of prey that found in every continent except Antarctica. The adult peregrine falcon has long pointed wings with powerful muscles. It gives them exceptional speed in flight. The stiff feathers on their wings also avoid chances of drag by the wind.
To reach such extreme speeds, the falcon has the ability to fold its aerodynamic wings back against its body to reduce drag. According to one study, it will continue to make small adjustments to wing position and speed right up until the moment of contact in order to actually hits its target.
The peregrine falcons display a spectacular stoop while hunting. They dive upon small birds from high. Combined with its ability to quickly and accurately process visual stimuli, the peregrine falcon is able to prey upon fast-moving birds such as pigeons, songbirds, and doves right in mid-air.
It is also fast enough to seize upon the occasional rabbit. Normally the strike from peregrine falcons can kill its prey in no time due to the astonishing speed of dive. Even its nostrils are adapted to tolerate the air when it dives, helping to protect its lungs from damage.
Unlike other birds the peregrine falcons have a strong heart and highly efficient lungs. So that their body gets enough oxygen supply even at the great speed they achieve during a dive.
While hunting, the peregrine falcon flies with its head at an angular position, which aids in its curved flight toward its prey. This positioning helps reduce drag, getting it to its desired location at top speed. What a smart bird!
Summary of the 10 Fastest Birds in the World
|1||Peregrine Falcon||389 km/h (242 mph)|
|2||Saker Falcon||322km/h (200 mph)|
|3||Golden Eagle||322km/h (200 mph)|
|4||Gyrfalcon||209km/h (130 mph)|
|5||Red-tailed Hawk||190 km/h (120 mph)|
|6||White-throated Needletail||170 km/h (105 mph)|
|7||Eurasian Hobby||161km/h (100 mph)|
|8||Rock dove (pigeon)||150km/h (89 mph)|
|9||Red-breasted Merganser||128km/h 80 mph|
|10||Canvasback||115 km/h (73 mph)|