Peregrine Falcon: Fastest Creature On Earth

On November 6, 2014 by Tim Newman

Peregrine Falcon Flight From Walt Whitman Bridge Camden & Philadelphia

When asked which is the fastest critter on God’s green earth, most people would answer “cheetah”. That’s not such a daft answer, the cheetah is the fastest animal on land. Others might answer marlin or sailfish, who certainly are very nippy under the water. But the animal that takes the speedy crown with vigorous aplomb is the peregrine falcon.

Some people might answer the question of which animal is fastest by saying something like… “a human piloting a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird”. They would be correct, but that’s cheating. If I was following the letter of the law I should have titled this article Peregrine Falcon: Fastest Creature On Earth Without The Aid Of External Methods Of Propulsion, but I fear that title might have put off even the hardiest of my readership.

Peregrine Falcon - Fastest Animal - Notched Beak

The winner of the fastest animal competition is in fact the peregrine falcon. These amazing birds are a widespread collection of species that inhabit no less than six continents. They had a little bit of bother with the advent of heavy pesticide use (DDT) during the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s but are now well and truly settled back in thanks to some tough legislation. The only wild bird that competes in geographical coverage is the humble rock (or feral) pigeon. The peregrine falcon loves snacking on pigeons, so that all works out rather nicely.

Peregrine Falcon - Fastest Animal - ATTACK

Peregrine falcons have been man’s hunting bird of choice for hundreds of years. Their general good nature and eagerness to kill are the main reasons, and the variety in peregrine subspecies’ size means that there is a peregrine for every prey item.

The peregrine is a varied and adept hunter, hence its general success in a variety of climates. It will happily sit on a stump and wait for a mouse to break cover before pouncing at short-range; but it is during their incredible, kilometer long dives that their fantastical speeds are achieved.

Peregrine Falcon - Fastest Animal - Diving

So how fast does a peregrine falcon actually go? It’s a difficult question to answer actually, as you can imagine, clocking a bird of prey as it dives at its quarry against the blue sky is a technical endeavor. Estimates vary but the sensible answer is normally around 320 km/h (200 mph). Others claim to have measured the speed at 389 km/h (242 mph) which is nothing short of incredible. Scientists using computer models say that speeds even higher could well be within the realms of possibility, especially when they are at higher altitudes where air is thin and drag minimal.

Peregrine Falcon Close Up Head Shot

Once the peregrine has spotted its intended prey item it sets itself into a dive which can exceed terminal velocity. They hurtle unrelentingly until they smash the quarry with full force, claws first. The falcon’s notched beak helps it sever the spinal column of its meal for a quick kill. They aren’t particularly big and can successfully hunt animals a lot larger, so the quicker they can stop the creature’s thrashing the better. Some zoologists believe that when slamming into a rabbit, the peregrine gives the rabbit a heart attack before it even snaps its neck, such is the surprise and force of the impact.

Here’s a nice little National Geographic video showing a peregrine chasing and overtaking a human in free fall. These guys do not muck about…


Animal Collection on LAZERHORSE.ORG






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