Why peregrine falcons are the fastest animals on earth


When I googled the “fastest animal” this
is what I got. A cheetah. A cheetah. A little mammal bias maybe? The truly fastest animal on Earth has a max
speed 3 times greater than the cheetah. Peregrine falcons can leisurely cruise through
the skies between 40 and 60 miles per hour, but when they’re diving toward their prey,
they can reach speeds over 200 miles per hour. That comes out to 293 feet per second. It’s like flying the length of a football
field in 1.2 seconds. Or the length of this DC block. So how is it even possible for peregrines
to dive this fast? A peregrine falcon is around the size of a
crow—weighing between one and three pounds with a wingspan up to 3.6 feet. They prey on other birds by dive-bombing them
and snatching them mid-air. The first thing you see when a peregrine goes
into its dive, also called a stoop, is their bullet-shaped bodies. Notice how the peregrine tucks in its feet,
and sweeps back its tail and wings. This streamlined figure reduces wind turbulence,
maximizes maneuverability, lift, and speed as it cuts through the air. It wouldn’t be able to do this nearly as
efficiently if had broad wings like a hawk or an owl. But the peregrine’s wings are pointed and
angled back. And because of its stiff unslotted feathers,
it experiences less drag—the wind would pull on loose feathers on other birds. Peregrines also have a large keel — that’s
this breast bone. A bigger keel supports stronger chest muscles. Acute vision allows them to spot prey a mile
away. The nictitating membrane, or third-eyelid,
helps to maintain their vision in their high-speed dives, and the secretory gland keeps their
corneas from drying out because of all that wind. But none of this would be possible if the
peregrine couldn’t breathe. The air speeds that Peregrine falcons experience
while diving would make it impossible for most animals to breathe, but they have a bone
in their nostrils to slow down the airflow. They also have robust hearts that beat around
600 to 900 beats per minute. All birds have a vastly more efficient respiratory
system than mammals. Then to finally catch her prey, the peregrine
is pulling around 25 G’s coming out of a stoop—compare that to a F-16 fighter pilot
who endures up to 9 G’s during some maneuvers. On speed alone peregrines are formidable birds
of prey but it isn’t their only adaptation of note. Footage from our friends at BBC Earth shows
where this wanderer has made its mark in some unexpected places. After a sharp recovery from near extinction
in North America—bustling cities with soaring skyscrapers and towering cathedrals have become
many peregrine’s new kingdom; a plentiful hunting ground with high perches and deliciously
plump pigeons.

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