Do you know what the world’s fastest animal is? I didn’t know. After I heard the answer, I thought, “That’s a trick question!” Well, perhaps not for everyone, but since I had forgotten the definition of animal, I don’t usually think of a bird as “an animal.” But, according to Britannica Kids - “Animals are living things. Like plants, animals need food and water to live.
Unlike plants, which make their own food, animals feed themselves by eating plants or other animals.” Then you get into different categories of animals such as – “Animals that have a backbone are called vertebrates. Animals that do not have a backbone are call invertebrates.” Birds are vertebrates - a type of animal.
So, what is the world’s fastest animal? It is the Peregrine Falcon. This falcon reaches speeds up to 200 miles per hour! The Peregrine Falcon is a raptor that is 14” to 19” long, with a wing span of 39” to 43” and weighs about a 1 lb to around 3 ½ lbs, has sharp talons, keen eyesight and a beak that is interestingly notched.
Usually I don’t even like the thought of raptor birds because I enjoy what I call “sweet little birds” that come to my backyard and eat either seeds or insects, but being the science geek that I am, I watched a Nova special on this bird and as I have “Looked at the birds of the air…” Matthew 6:26, I have found individual fascinating things about every type of bird that I “Look” into.
These falcons are commonly trained to hunt and are considered one of the deadliest predators on the planet. They will fearlessly attack prey that is over double their size. They easily reach a speed of about 69 miles per hour when in pursuit of their prey, but this isn’t their top speed. This falcon uses a maneuver that most birds of prey don’t use called a “hunting stoop” where they travel over a ½ mile into the sky and then get into the “stoop” position and they hurtle from the sky at the rate of 200 miles per hour to capture their prey.
In the “stoop” they fold their wings to minimize drag and at the last minute before they strike their prey they stretch out their wings to reduce their speed which keeps them from crashing into their prey and hurting themselves. Their flight plan isn’t a hit or miss operation, but is perfectly timed by the falcon much like a missile uses proportional navigation, where “zc the system is constantly sizing up the line of sight and making small tweaks en route” says Audubon.org.
I was surprised to find out that Mississippi has three types of falcons that live here since the Peregrine Falcon was not listed in my “Birds of Louisiana and Mississippi” field guide. But, in an article by Wildlife Informer I found out that there are three types of falcons that live year round in Mississippi - the American Kestrel, the Merlin and the Peregrine Falcon.
The American Kestrel lives year round all over our state except on our coastline where they only show up in winter. The Merlin and the Peregrine Falcon have both migratory and non-breeding populations within the state, but they are mostly seen in the southern parts of Mississippi during the winter. Mississippi is considered a fantastic state to watch the migration of the Peregrine Falcon because large groups of them fly right over our heads during migration!
So as I “Look at the birds of the air…” I have learned a lot about another Birdie of Mississippi that I didn’t know was a Mississippi bird. Though I haven’t taken a photo of this bird yet, I look forward to having that perfect day when I will capture it with my camera up in the sky or in a “hunting stoop” rocketing through the air.
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