The cheetah is well known for being the fastest creature on earth, but the animal kingdom is not limited to Landsurface of . What is the fastest flying animal? And what biological characteristics allow its speed?
The fastest jet-set in nature is the peregrine falcon (Peregrine falcon). “Peregrinus” is the Latin word for “traveler,” an apt nickname given that raptors can migrate up to 15,550 miles (25,000 kilometers) in a round trip, one of the longest migrations in North America. according to Nature Conservancy (opens in a new tab) In fact, peregrine falcons are global birds, found on every continent except Antarcticathe National Wildlife Federation noted (opens in a new tab).
Peregrine hunts for prey from great heights, either from the air or from a high perch. When they find a target, they swoop down at high speeds, striking with a tight foot to stun or kill prey on impact, Hein van Grouw, senior curator of the London Natural History Museum’s bird group, told LiveScience. com in an email. During a dive, known as a stoop, a peregrine falcon is estimated to reach speeds of up to about 200 mph (320 km/h), according to a 2018 study in the Journal of Comparative Physiology A (opens in a new tab)that not only make peregrines the fastest birds in the world, but also the fastest animals in the world, Britannica noted (opens in a new tab).
Experimental dives suggested that peregrines can even reach speeds of up to 242 mph (389 km/h), according to Guinness World Records (opens in a new tab). In a series of dives in 1999, a female peregrine falcon named “Frightful,” owned by aviator and falconer Ken Franklin of Friday Harbor, Washington, set the world record after she was released from an aircraft at about 5,182 meters (17,000 feet). feet) above sea level. level. Frightful, 6, was about 16 inches (40.6 centimeters) long, weighed about 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) and had a wingspan of about 41 inches (104 cm), Guinness World Records noted.
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To measure Frightful’s speed, Franklin attached a 4-ounce (113.4-gram) computer chip taken from a skydiver’s recording altimeter computer to Frightful’s tail feathers. Franklin then measured how far Frightful sank over a certain period of time. Franklin and a cameraman also used altimeters (devices that measure altitude) when they parachuted with Frightful during their descents. Data from all devices was compared after the dives, Guinness World Records reported.
So what anatomical features help peregrine falcons achieve these great speeds?
Peregrine falcons have pointed wings that resemble those of fighter planes. This shape reduces the amount of drag they experience from the air, helping peregrines to fly quickly, Ed Drewitt, a UK-based zoologist and peregrine falcon researcher and author of “urban pilgrims (opens in a new tab)(Pelagic Publishing, 2014) told WordsSideKick.com in an email.
Peregrine falcons have muscular, teardrop-shaped bodies that also help streamline the birds to “reduce drag and help them drop like a bullet,” Drewitt said. Also, its feathers are very tight and have a stiff structure compared to other falcons, “probably to reduce drag and make it smoother in the air,” van Grouw said.
Meanwhile, the pilgrims’ nostrils have a system of small bumps inside them that are thought to act as baffles, a structure that regulates the passage of fluids. These knobs work by “reducing the airflow in your air ducts,” Drewitt said. This is likely to help the peregrines breathe during their incredibly fast dives.
The peregrine falcon’s breakneck speed helps it hunt, primarily other birds, ranging from prey as small as hummingbirds to as large as sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis), according to the National Wildlife Federation. Scientists have documented around 450 species of birds as their prey in North America, and the number worldwide may be as high as 2,000.
Related: Why are there so many pigeons?
The shape of peregrines is very similar to that of their main prey, common pigeons (columba livia), also known as rock pigeons. “Both have evolved side by side, one to escape the other and one to catch the other,” van Grouw said. “It’s interesting that they both get their speed from the same body shape.”
Peregrine Falcons also eat bats and occasionally steal prey such as fish and rodents from other raptors.
In fact, while peregrines are the fastest animals to move through the air when they dive, a bat claims the prize as the fastest flying creature on record. Brazilian free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) are the the fastest known flyers in the world, clock speeds of up to 100 mph (160 km/h), Live Science previously reported. That’s fast compared to peregrine falcon flight speeds, which average 25 to 34 mph (40 to 55 km/h) in flight and 69 mph (112 km/h) while pursuing prey. according to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology (opens in a new tab).
Originally published on Live Science.