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Top 10 Fastest Birds in the World


Until quite recently, the flying speeds of
which birds are capable were largely a matter of speculation. Modern technology, such as radar and high-speed
cameras, has enabled measurements to be made, but many of the figures in this list of the
world’s ten fastest birds (in reverse order) are still open to dispute. 10. Canvasback – 73 mph
This North American diving duck gets its name from the pattern of fine lines on its back,
resembling a coarse woven fabric. It is the largest diving duck in North America. Canvasbacks migrate southwards in large flocks
to overwinter in warmer habitats such as the Gulf of Mexico, returning to northern feeding
grounds in spring to breed. Like most ducks, the canvasback is happiest
in the water, but nonetheless can fly at high speed – up to 73 mph has been recorded. 9. Red-breasted Merganser – 81 mph This large red-billed duck is recognisable
by the shaggy crest on its back and head, as well as the male’s orange-red breast
patch. It nests inland in Great Britain and Europe,
but spends the winter in coastal waters, generally alone or in small groups, although sometimes
when a good food source is available a flock can be seen. Mergansers dive for fish and can fly at over
80 miles per hour. 8. Spur-winged Goose – 88 mph This large African bird gets its name from
the sharp spike on the bend of its wings, which it uses for self-defence and also when
establishing breeding territory. Mostly black with white patches, the males
are larger than the females and have a larger red facial patch. The spur-winged goose, which is known to fly
at 88 mph, is not strictly a member of the goose family, although they are closely related. One of its usual foods is a poisonous beetle,
which does not harm the spur-winged goose but does result in the toxin accumulating
in the bird’s flesh, making it poisonous to predators, including humans. 7. Frigatebird – 95 mph Frigatebirds live around Pacific coasts and
islands. They have the largest wingspan-to-weight ratio
of any bird, and because of this it is almost impossible for them to take off from flat
ground; they can barely walk, but they can fly at 95 mph. Oddly for a seabird, they do not have oily
feathers, and cannot swim or take off from water. They spend most of their lives in the air,
riding the wind over the open ocean, and snatching food from the surface; they can spend many
days on the wing without landing. Their alternative name of ‘pirate bird’
derives from their habit of attacking other birds in order to steal food. 6. Eurasian Hobby – 100 mph
This elegant small falcon is found over much of Europe, Asia, and Africa, though it tends
to migrate to warmer regions in the winter. It has a dark grey-blue back, lighter underside,
and distinctive facial markings resembling a long moustache. In flight, it is recognisable by its narrow,
swept-back wings and long tail, giving it a shape similar to an anchor. The hobby hunts by chasing down its prey,
which can be insects such as dragon-flies, but also small birds; it can sometimes fly
fast enough (possibly at 100 mph) to catch even swifts and swallows. 5. Swift – 106 mph The smallest bird in this list, the common
swift spends almost its entire life in flight; it even sleeps on the wing, perching only
when breeding. It spends the winter months in sub-Saharan
Africa, migrating to Europe to breed in spring. It is easily recognisable by its anchor-like
shape and shrill screeching cry. It uses its flying speed and skill to hunt
down flying insects, scooping up many at a time in its wide gaping beak. The swift has been recorded as flying at 105
mph. 4. White-throated Needletail – 105 mph This Asian member of the swift family is somewhat
larger and stockier than the common swift. It breeds over much of Central Asia, but migrates
southwards in the winter, travelling as far as Australia. Like the common swift, it rarely touches the
ground, and has tiny legs and feet which it uses only for perching on hollow trees and
rocks during the nesting season. Its long, swept-back wings give it a maximum
speed of 106 mph. The needletail’s name derives from the spiny
tip to the tail, which, unlike the common swift’s, is not forked. 3. Gyrfalcon – 130 mph
The largest member of the falcon family, the gyrfalcon is found over much of the northern
parts of America, Europe, and Asia. In size it resembles a buzzard, although its
swept-back pointed wings and narrow tail are typically falcon-like features. It varies in colour through various shades
of grey, from near-black to almost white. Although a bird of tundra and forest, it is
also known to hunt on ice floes far out to sea. It will take birds and mammals over twice
its own weight, even hunting other falcons, and this fearless behaviour has led to the
gyrfalcon being prized by falconers throughout history. It reaches its greatest speed when diving,
with wings swept back, to catch its prey from above,

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