The peregrine falcon is one of the more well-known birds of prey, thanks to its incredible speed that puts it as the fastest animal on the entire planet. This makes them one of the most formidable hunters in the animal kingdom, where they hunt mostly medium-sized birds mid-flight.
Not only that, but peregrine falcons are one of the most common birds of prey too. They can be found in almost every continent, with the sole exception being Antarctica.
Due to their aerial hunting, they prefer wide open spaces for habitat, particularly excelling near coastal regions due to the abundance of shorebirds. However, peregrines are known to live in almost any environment, including in major cities where they tend to nest in skyscrapers and bridges.
Additionally, a peregrine falcon can travel extensively when it isn’t nesting season – their name actually means wanderer – although many will not migrate and remain permanently reside in one location.
Striking with Speed and Stealth
Due to their extraordinary hunting abilities, peregrines are among the most effective birds of prey. This can be credited to a number of aspects, including their speed, claws and talons.
They actually look for prey mid-flight, targeting birds of a medium size. They will soar to heights where they can view a prey from above and after finding one they will swoop down in a very steep and direct dive to catch them.
This is where their speed comes into play. As the fastest flying animal on the planet, the peregrine falcon can reach speeds of over 200 miles per hour (320 kmph) as it dives down onto its prey, allowing it to quickly capture and/or kill it in the blink of an eye.
When this speed is combined with a set of strong talons and a hooked beak, peregrines have the perfect tools to capture prey mid-air, making them elite hunters.
How do They Achieve Such High Speeds?
It may seem rather odd that peregrines are so fast compared to other birds, but it can be attributed to many different features, all of which set it apart from its fellow birds.
The first feature that helps to make them so fast is the keel, a type of modified breastbone that helps a bird fly. The muscles that help wings flap are connected to this bone and a peregrine falcon has a very large keel, resulting in more muscles that can generate more flapping power.
Another important feature is unsurprisingly the wings. Sweeping backwards, the species has wings that are naturally streamlined due to their curvature, which can help to create an air foil effect that increases speed. Stiff, slim feathers also contribute to this as they help to reduce any drag when in flight
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is the efficiency of their respiratory and circulatory systems. A peregrine falcon can breathe effortlessly when reaching speeds of 200mph due to one-way air flowing through their lungs – sacs present here can keep the lungs inflated even when exhaling.
Also, a very strong heart capable of anywhere between 600 and 900 beats per second provides constant blood flow for the peregrine falcon, ensuring little fatigue when in flight.
Other birds do not have anything close to this, and therefore cannot breathe when flying at even half the speed a peregrine can.