Top 10 Fastest Birds on Earth

Top 10 Fastest Birds

Birds have mastered the art of flight, evolving over millions of years to pull off aerial feats that seem to defy physics. Their streamlined bodies, powerful wings, and lightweight frames allow some species to reach blinding speeds. But which birds are the fastest in the world?

After extensive research into avian physiology and flight performance, we’ve compiled a list of the 10 fastest birds on the planet. Spanning continents and diverse habitats, these lightning-quick creatures can achieve horizontal speeds exceeding 160 kilometers per hour.

From falcons that tuck their wings and torpedo through the skies to shorebirds that migrate vast distances annually, keep reading to learn which birds made the cut for the top 10 fastest-flying birds.

The Fastest Birds in the World

Here are the top 10 fastest birds in descending order, based on their recorded horizontal flight speeds:

1. Peregrine Falcon – 389 km/h

The Peregrine Falcon is the undisputed fastest bird, reaching record speeds of 389 kilometers per hour during its characteristic hunting stoop – a steep dive towards prey. That’s faster than a cheetah can run and over twice as fast as the swiftest racehorse.

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Native to most continents, Peregrines have evolved to catch other birds in mid-air. To achieve their immense speeds, they tuck their wings back during descents, minimizing drag. Prey usually dies instantaneously from the sheer force of impact.

2. Frigatebird – 153 km/h

Frigatebird

Related to pelicans and cormorants, frigatebirds are large seabirds notorious for harassing other birds until they regurgitate their food, which the frigatebird then steals. Their aerial piracy requires tremendous aerial agility and speed, clocking in at a maximum of 153 km/h.

To help them pursue victims over endless tracts of ocean, frigatebirds have the largest wingspan-to-body-weight ratio of any bird. They can even sleep while flying and spend months aloft without landing!

3. Spine-tailed Swift – 171 km/h

Spine-tailed Swift

Reaching speeds of at least 106 miles per hour (171 km/h), the aptly named spine-tailed swift is the fastest bird in level flight. That’s faster than the entirety of the bird’s normal flight speed.

These agile fliers breed mainly on vertical cliffs and rock walls in Australia and Asia. They feed on aerial insects and nest in small crevices, clinging to sheer rock faces with their sharp claws.

4. White-throated Needletail – 169 km/h

White-throated Needletail

Closely related to swifts, the needle-tailed swift lives up to its name, achieving speeds of 105 mph (169 km/h) with its supremely aerodynamic body and curved, knife-like wings. It migrates all the way from Siberia to spend summers flying over Australia.

Needletails have tiny feathered feet that are practically useless for perching. These expert fliers opt to either hang vertically from branches or remain entirely airborne, feeding and mating without landing.

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5. Eurasian Hobby – 160 km/h

Eurasian Hobby

A slim falcon species, the Eurasian hobby tears through the air at 100 mph (160 km/h) in high-speed pursuits of large insects, bats, and small birds. Despite their lightning-fast velocities, they can abruptly change direction, angle, and speed while giving chase.

Sometimes called “dragon falcons” in their European and Asian range, Eurasian hobbies migrate long distances between Africa and Eurasia. Females are larger and more powerful fliers than males.

6. Frigate Petrel – 153 km/h

Frigate Petrel

The frigate petrel is a type of shearwater adapted for dynamic soaring across ocean waters. Using updrafts and wind deflection, they alternately flap and glide, reaching speeds over 95 mph (153 km/h) without vigorously flapping their wings.

These gregarious seabirds range widely across tropical and subtropical oceans. They may cover more than 300,000 square kilometers annually, associating in large flocks around rich feeding areas.

7. Anna’s Hummingbird – 98 km/h

Anna's Hummingbird

Tiny, brilliantly colored hummingbirds seem too delicate for speed, yet they can beat their wings up to 80 times per second and hit speeds over 60 mph (98 km/h).

Anna’s hummingbird takes the prize as the fastest hummingbird during courtship dives. The male ascends around 100 feet before folding his wings to plummet towards a watching female at a speed of 98 km/hr, making him one of the fastest birds at that moment.

8. Red Breasted Merganser – 129 km/h

Red Breasted Merganser

A type of duck specialized for swimming, the red-breasted merganser can propel through the air at top speeds of 80 mph (129 km/h). Their slender profile and pointed wings help them fly rapidly when migrating across North America and Eurasia.

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During takeoff from water, mergansers run along the surface, wings flapping wildly before lifting into full-speed flight. Their legs and feet are set so far back on their bodies that they walk awkwardly on land.

9. Rock Dove – 127 km/h

Rock Dove

The rock dove, or common pigeon, reaches maximum flight speeds of about 79 mph (127 km/h). These facile fliers thrive in human environments worldwide after adapting to live amongst people since domestication by the ancient Sumerians.

Today’s ubiquitous city pigeons emerged from wild rock doves native to Eurasian sea cliffs. They’ve honed their flight skills avoiding cars and pedestrians in urban areas while seeking food. Researchers have noted substantial physiological differences between long-feral urban and wild rock doves.

10. Canvasback Duck – 113 km/h

Canvasback Duck

The last bird to make our fastest list, canvasback ducks can attain speeds of 70 mph (113 km/h) using their broad, concave wings to generate substantial lift and thrust.

These large diving ducks breed in western North America before heading south to winter along the Atlantic coast.

In flight, canvasbacks exhibit fast, shallow wingbeats, unlike many duck species. They beat their wings up to 3 times per second and migrate thousands of miles every year between continental habitats. Their legs are located more centrally on their bodies to provide propulsion while swimming.

Conclusion:

The astounding horizontal flight velocities of birds like peregrine falcons and spine-tailed swifts push the boundaries of avian anatomy. But many other incredible bird attributes enable elite high-speed maneuvers, rapid take-offs, instantaneous stops, and aerobatics unattainable by any aircraft.

Next time you see a bird streak across the sky, consider that it achieves such graceful speed and precision flight with muscles accounting for just 15 – 25% of their body weight. It is truly one of nature’s most magnificent modes of transportation!