Often seen as majestic creatures as they soar overhead, birds come in all shapes and sizes and boast a variety of physical capacities, such as the ability to fly or dive at rates of speed that rival vehicles. Some, like the flightless ostrich, are able to run at break-neck speed to avoid their natural predators. These speedy animals combine thrust, drag, weight, and lift to achieve flight but their wing-beat and span helps dictate just how fast they may be able to take off. These are some of the fastest birds in the world according to specific skill sets like diving ability, flight and running speed, and wing-beat.
Fastest Bird (diving) : Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine falcons can hit speeds of up to 240 miles per hour while diving, or stooping, using their long, pointed wings that help direct their path as they pursue their prey, often smaller birds. In 2005, a six-year-old peregrine falcon named Who Frightful, in the United States, set the record for fastest dive by a bird at almost 242 mph.
To-date, no other species of bird has been noted to rival the peregrine falcon in its dive speed. The speed is achieved by soaring to great heights and then stooping steeply. To protect their lungs, the birds have developed a nasal covering to divert dangerous high-pressure air from entering their bodies.
Despite its impressive dive speed, the peregrine falcon cannot compare to other birds when measuring level flight - in fact, it doesn't make the top 10 fastest birds in that category.
Fastest Bird (in level flight): Gray Headed Albatross
The gray-headed albatross can hit speeds of more than 78 mph, with the record holder being recorded at 78.9 mph in 2004. Not only is the albatross able to hit great speeds, it can also maintain its velocity for long periods, with the record-breaking, monitored bird keeping up its high speed for more than eight hours as it travelled to its South Georgian nest during an Antarctic storm.
These speedy seabirds feed further south than any others of their kind, from their South Atlantic breeding locations into the Antarctic, where they take advantage of the strong storms in the region to fly even faster. Their typical speed while foraging is 68 mph, with their large wingspan helping to stay on-balance and keep up their pace.
Fastest Bird (running on land): Ostrich
Though flightless due to its large size, the ostrich can hit impressive speeds on the ground and takes the crown in the category of run speed for birds. They can even outrun other species, reaching a top speed around 45 mph on foot which can be sustained for long distances - the ostrich could tackle an Olympic marathon in less than 45 minutes. Their legs are the contributing factor to their speed, with strides between 10 to 15 feet, and strong enough to kill a human being with one swift kick.
Its wings are still useful even though the ostrich doesn't leave the ground. With a 2.2-metre span, the wings help leep the ostrich balanced and steer its high-velocity run with subtle movements, similar to airplane wings. In addition, the ostrich's center of gravity is perfectly proportioned between its wide wings and long legs, which help control its balance no matter what speed it hits.
Fastest Wing-beat Of A Bird: Ruby-throated Hummingbird
The ruby-throated hummingbird takes bragging rights as the bird with the fastest wing-beat, particularly during courtship, flapping at about 200 beats per second. This rate outdoes other hummingbirds, which typically hit about 90 beats per second with their wings. However, during regular flight, the ruby-throated hummingbird beats its wings about 53 times per second, which helps it fly in an acrobatic-type fashion few other species can rival.
Other Fast Birds
Anna's hummingbird, a medium-sized member of its species, is found on the coast of North America and also boasts an average flight speed of 61 mph. Most impressive is the courtship rituals of the male Anna's hummingbird, which will plummet to the ground at high-speed to impress potential mates. Each second it descends, the bird covers 385 times its own body length. Due to its tiny size (about 2.75 inches long), accelerating at this rate is the fastest aerial maneuver performed by any bird - the peregrine falcon and its notable dive only cover about 200 body lengths per second.
The Eurasian hobby belongs to teh falcon family, though it is on the smaller end of the spectrum for the species. It migrates over long distances to spend the winter in Central Africa and Southern Asia, reaching top speeds of 100 mph. The hobby can make quick, agile movements in the air using a steady wing-beat and long glides to sustain its speed. Faster wing-beats help the Eurasion hobby accelerate quickly on the hunt, interspered with shorter glides. When diving after prey it will sweep back its wings
Known as the largest falcon in the world, the gyrfalcon is renowned for long, pointed wings that help with a high-speed dive that allows the bird to descend from great heights to catch prey. While diving, the gyrfalcon often achieves speeds of 130 mph, with great control over their descent using the position of their wings, which can help increase or decrease speed and direction with slight movement.
It's A Bird, It's A Plane
Birds were the inspiration for aviation as humans tried to emulate the movement of wings when designing early aircraft. As time elapsed and technology advanced, these designs shifted but still bore some resemblance to the motion of birds in flight.
For instance, the take-off of a helicopter, which uses its rotors to create lift by pushing air downwards, is similar to how some birds rely on fast-paced wing-beat to accomplish the same result. The streamlined shape of modern airplanes is also similar to the birds that inspired them, with bodies made up of lightweight material akin to the low-density bone structure of birds and a pointed nose that mimics a bird beak. In addition, airplanes use their wings and tails to adjust incline, decline, speed, and direction, just as birds do during sustained flight or dives.