The fastest bird in the world

Most people would know that the Peregrine falcon is considered the fastest bird in the world. It reaches a max horizontal flying speed of 105-115 kmph – considerably slower than the White-throated Needletail (that can reach 170 kmph), the Gyrfalcon (clocked at 145 kmph) or the Golden Eagle (a top speed of 129 kmph). Where it beats all of them hands down is its top speed in a dive where it has been clocked at 242 mph (thats nearly 400 kmph). And we know this thanks to some phenomenal work done by Ken Franklin in sky diving alongside Frightful, a six-year old 2.2 pound Peregrine Falcon – captured in this wonderful article, Falling with the Falcon.

While the hyperlinked article itself makes for some wonderful reading, here are some more interesting facts about the Peregrine Falcon:-

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A Peregrine Falcon just about to take off (at Little Rann of Kutch)

The word peregrinus in Latin means “to wander – which is where the bird got its name from. It’s scientific name is Falco Peregrinus.

They are among the world’s most common birds of prey and live on all continents except Antarctica – maybe why “to wander” was the genesis is what I reckon.

They also seem to fly a lot, nesting in one place and then wintering in another distant location. Apparently, there are falcons that nest in the Arctic tundra and winter in South America – flying as many as 25,500 kilometers in a year. Despite this phenomenal amount of flying they have an incredible homing instinct that leads them back to favoured haunts, quite incredible considering that we humans can’t find our way around without the help of Google maps!!

The courtship includes a mix of aerial acrobatics, precise spirals, and steep dives. The male passes prey it has caught to the female in mid-air. To make this possible, the female actually flies upside-down to receive the food from the male’s talons.

Their eggs are white to buff with red or brown markings. They are incubated for about a month, mainly by the female. The male also helps with the incubation of the eggs during the day, but only the female incubates them at night. The chicks start to fly in about 42 days, but are still dependent on their parents to learn how to hunt.

Peregrine Falcon chicks are called eyases.  They consume an incredible amount of food in the first few weeks after birth – doubling their weight in less than a week and are ten times their size at birth within 3 weeks. The parents must be super tired with all that hunting that would have to do to feed their super-ravenous young ones!!

They feed mainly on medium sized birds like pigeons, doves, songbirds, waterfowl and waders – covering about 1500-2000 species. The falcon hunts most often at dawn and dusk, when prey are most active, but also nocturnally in cities, particularly during migration periods when hunting at night may become prevalent. They require open space in order to hunt, and therefore often hunts over open water, marshes, valleys and fields, searching for prey either from a high perch or from the air. The falcon’s prey is struck in one wing so the falcon does not injure itself.  The Peregrine Falcon strikes its prey with a clenched foot, stunning or killing it with the impact, and then captures the prey in mid-air. If its prey is too heavy to carry, a Peregrine will drop it to the ground and eat it there.

One more trivia about the Peregrine Falcon that I found very interesting is this. The Japanese word for peregrine falcon is “Hayabusa”. This was the name that was chosen by Suzuki for the superbike they launched in 1999.  At that time, the Honda CBR1100XX Super Blackbird was the world’s fastest production motorcycle and they wanted a name that would reflect their intent to kill the Honda. The choice of name was made because the peregrine falcon preys on blackbirds – which was their intent. Eventually, the Hayabusa managed to surpass the Super Blackbird by at least 16 kmph.

I love any picture that I have managed to capture of this bird – there is just so much of a legend behind the Peregrine Falcon. The one I have on top is probably the most memorable. We came across this (poss.) juvenile one on a trip to the Little Rann of Kutch a couple of years back and waited and waited for it to take off from the perch it had chosen. Finally after about an hour of waiting, I was rewarded with a perfect (atleast in my opinion) take-off shot.

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