The Fastest Animal in the Air

It might come as a surprise for many people, but the fastest bird on the planet is actually a bird - the Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) with its amazing ability to clock a speed of 200 mph in air. That makes it nearly three times faster than the cheetah - the fastest land animal with a speed of 70 mph. In level flight, the peregrine, with an average speed of 40 mph, is not even quick enough to catch a pigeon.

The amazing speed that we talk about is only achieved in course of mid-air hunting, wherein the Peregrine goes high in the air, and dives onto its prey at speeds in excess of 200 mph. In fact, the fastest recorded dive of a peregrine falcon clocked an unbelievable 242 mph, a feat achieved by Washington based falconer Ken Franklin's pet peregrine, named 'Frightful', in 2005.

So the Peregrine falcon uses its tremendous speed as a weapon to hunt flying birds, but how does a bird measuring 16 inches pull of this feat? The physical and behavioral adaptations of this falcon species have an important role to play in its high-speed dive. The Peregrine ascends to an altitude in excess of 3 miles, spots the prey and dives on it - beak first. In course of its dive, this bird tucks its wings and feet inside, folds its tail and streamlines its body, in such a manner that it gets into a perfect aerodynamic shape. The nostrils of a peregrine falcon are especially adapted to help it breathe when diving at high speed. Diving at such high speed when hunting has its own drawbacks though, and a success rate of mere 20 percent does hint at this very fact.

The peregrine falcon is also one of the most widespread bird of prey in the world, with its natural habitat spanning the entire planet - except for a few regions such as the polar areas and the tropical rainforests. The species usually prefers open areas as hunting in such areas is much more convenient. Such is the reputation of the Peregrine falcons that they are specially trained and used to scare away the birds around airports and other places where birds create nuisance.