When considering the top 10 fastest birds in the world, there are several variable to take into account. Birds, by nature, have different activities such as soaring, gliding, traveling distances or diving for prey. Because of these varied ways of flying, some birds exceed others in terms of speed for specific activities. For this reason, the birds included below are compared for maximum air speed, and in the case of raptors who hunt for prey or diving birds, those hunting dive speeds are also important.
10. Red-breasted merganser
This is a large, diving duck. It lives in rivers, large lakes and the ocean, and tends to prefer salt water habitats more than other merganser species. It has a maximum air speed of 81 miles per hour, but there is one instance of a merganser being chased by an airplane that reached 100 miles per hour.
It is large, but slender, and it has a beautiful deep orange red beak which is clearly visible against its dark feathered head. The male’s head is greenish black while the female’s head is dark brown. It likes to dive beneath the surface of the water, eating small fish, insects, crustaceans and frogs.
9. Spur-winged goose
The spur-winged goose lives in the wetlands all through sub-Saharan Africa. It has a maximum air speed of 88 miles per hour. Its wing span ranges from 59 to 79 inches. It eats a variety of plants, but it is most known for its blister beetle diet, which causes its flesh to be poisonous. It should never be eaten as it is toxic to humans, poisoning them and even causing death. It lives in open grasslands near rivers, river deltas and lakes. This goose lives in small flocks of up to 50 members. It is during the mating season that it is most likely to use its wing spurs to attack rival suitors.
The frigate bird is a beautiful black feathered creature. It is part of a seabird family that lives in the subtropical and tropical ocean regions of the world. The male has a brightly colored red pouch that it inflates during mating season. The striking red and black color combination is distinctive. They roost on cliffs or trees at night, but can soar for days using the wind currents while hunting for food. Their maximum air speed is 95 miles per hour, but their soaring is high and their gliding is slow.
Sometimes called kleptoparasites, they have been caught stealing food from other birds and even taking seabirds from their nests. They lay only one egg for each season of breeding, and they breed only every other year. While coupled, they are monogamous. They spend the longest time raising their chicks of any bird.
7. Eurasian hobby
The Eurasian hobby is often simply called a hobby. It is actually a very slender falcon. Like other falcons, it has a long heritage of being used in falconry, with its main training being to capture birds such as quails or larks for its master. It can, at times, out fly the swift, and it has a maximum air speed of 100 miles per hour. It eats large insects by catching them while flying, using its strong talons. Once it captures its prey, it will transfer its meal from its talon to its beak while circling in the air. In addition to insects, it eats smaller birds and small bats. It breeds and migrates in Africa, Asia and Europe.
6. Swift Apus
The swift Apus, or common swift, has a maximum air speed of 106 miles per hour. It has very short legs, which it only uses when catching on to vertical surfaces. When it flies, it tucks up its legs close to its body, which makes it look as if it has no feet. It is thought that its nearest relative in the bird world is the Western humming bird. It is about 17 cm in length and its wingspan is approximately 40 cm wide. It lives in nests made from materials caught in its beak while flying. The nests are often under eaves or gables. When a pair of swifts mate, they generally stay together for life. Most of their activities, including sleeping, are done in the air. They spend the most time in the air of any other bird.
5. White-throated needletail
Belonging to the family of birds commonly called swifts, this bird has been said to reach a maximum horizontal flying speed of 105 miles per hour. When flapping, it has been confirmed at 69.3 miles per hour, which is the fastest of birds in that mode. It has a spiny ended tail, which gives it its name, and quite short legs, which it rarely uses. It prefers to fly, catching insects in its beak for food. It builds its nests in the rocky crevices found in cliffs or in hollow trees, and uses its short legs to cling to the surfaces, which are often vertical. It breeds in southern Siberia and central Asia, and it migrates to the south of Asia, India and Australia.
This is the largest of all falcons. It lives throughout the Northern Hemisphere, breeding along the coasts and islands of the Arctic; with populations in Greenland, Northern Europe and North America. It has been revered as a hunting bird; with high regard by Vikings. Iceland claims it as its national symbol. Its diet is only birds and mammals. In the past, it was thought to be a tundra-living bird. But recent studies have shown that it also lives on sea ice located far from shore for long periods of time during the winter. It has very pointed long wings that help it to achieve an average diving speed of 116 to 130 miles per hour. Its maximum air speed is 130 miles per hour.
3. Grey-headed albatross
The Grey-headed albatross has a 7 foot 2 inch wingspan which gives it great power when using the wind to fly. It nests in the Southern Ocean of the world. Its head, throat and upper neck are a soft ash gray color. It is a member of the scientific family Diomedeidae. It feeds in the open waters on squid, fish, crustaceans and other creatures. This albatross can dive as far as 23 feet into the sea when chasing prey, and when a chick leaves the nest as a young adult, it may fly around the world several times over the several years it takes to reach complete adulthood. It has a maximum horizontal flying speed of 78.9 miles per hour.
2. Golden eagle
The Golden eagle lives in the Northern Hemisphere. It rivals the Peregrine falcon in diving speed, or stoop, which averages 150 miles per hour. Its maximum airspeed can reach 200 miles per hour. Together with the Peregrine falcon, this member of the scientific Accipitridae eagle family is a strong bird of prey often used throughout human history in falconry. Monogamous, it may remain with the same partner for life. It is one of the most studied raptors as its range extends for as much as 77 square miles. It is mostly dark brown in color, with its distinctive golden brown colored feathers located on its nape. Its wing span may reach from 5 to 7 feet when fully extended.
1. Peregrine falcon
The Peregrine falcon is known the world over for its high speed capability. It is famous for its high speed hunting dive, which averages 112 miles per hour. Its highest measured maximum air speed has been recorded at 242 miles per hour. It is regarded as the fastest creature in the entirety of the animal kingdom. It is a bird of prey, and part of the member of the scientific Falconidae family. It is similar in size to a crow, and fairly large, with blue black coloring on its back and barred white underneath. It has a black head and bright yellow, hook shaped beak. It is respected for its use in traditional falconry because it is versatile, easy to train and has a very strong hunting ability.
Found around the world, these birds make maximum use of their amazing wing spans, excellent vision and hunting skills to survive. A few are endangered, as human territory gradually impacts their natural habitats. They are all glorious animals and fascinating to study. Many are favorite subjects for photographers and artists; they are often illustrated in full flight, showing off their considerable speed and natural beauty.