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Fastest Flying Bird Countdown: 10 Fastest Fliers (Worldwide)

Birds can fly really fast! Hawks dive out of the sky at impressive speeds and even small birds are quick. For a challenge, try to keep your binoculars on a small bird in flight!

Most birds that fly are pretty quick, but some species are built for speed. How fast do the quickest birds fly? Why do they fly so fast?

See this article for answers and more about fast-flying birds!

 

How Fast Do Birds Fly?

Some birds fly faster than others but, in general, most bird species have an average flight speed of 15 to 20 miles per hour. That’s how fast cardinals, sparrows, and many other familiar garden birds tend to fly.

However, if those same small birds get chased by a predator or catch a tail wind during migration, they can move at 30 or even 40 miles per hour!

There are also birds that fly slower, species with rounded wings like the Winter Wren, and Ruffed Grouse. These birds don’t fly as fast because they don’t need to. Their rounded, less aerodynamic bodies and short wings are adaptations for living in and flying through dense vegetation. Even so, they can still fly quick but only briefly and for a short distance.

The fast-flying birds are species that usually live in open habitats, migrate long distances, or forage in the air. These are birds like falcons, sandpipers, and swifts. All of them have long, pointed wings and aerodynamic bodies that help them zip through the air with ease.

These birds can have average flight speeds of 40 or even 50 mph but fly faster when chasing prey and being chased by raptors.

 

The Fastest Fliers

#10 Red-breasted Merganser

Red-breasted Mergansers are fast fliers

Max speed: 81 mph
Length: 23 inches
Wingspan: 30 inches

Red-breasted Mergansers are one of the fastest ducks. In general, waterfowl fly pretty quickly, but they won’t catch up to this sleek bird!

This duck might be able to fly fast because it’s also a quick swimmer.

Red-breasted Mergansers have aerodynamic, slender bodies that aid in pursuing fish underwater. Those same attributes also work for rapid flight through the air, and they show it by steadily flying at 60 mph.

To see Red-breasted Mergansers on the move, watch coastal areas or the Great Lakes during migration and winter. Hundreds of these ducks zip low over the water in direct, fast-moving flight.

 

#9 Spur-winged Goose

Max speed: 88 mph
Length: 30 to 40 inches
Wingspan: 59 to 79 inches

The Spur-winged Goose is a big waterfowl species that lives in sub-Saharan Africa. Flocks concentrate at wetland habitats and if a crocodile or other predator gets too close, they quickly take to the skies.

When moving short distances, these goose-like birds might not fly so fast. However, while migrating between dry and wet areas, they can reach pretty high speeds. Spur-winged Geese use their long, broad wings to gain altitude and once they reach a certain height, they pick up velocity.

In direct flight, they probably fly 50 mph on average, but if they catch a tailwind or want to move faster, these waterfowl can exceed 80 mph!

 

#8 Magnificent Frigatebird

despite their size, Magnificent Frigatebirds are some of the fastest flying birds

Max speed: 35 mph
Length: 40 inches
Wingspan: 7.5 feet

Magnificent Frigatebirds are huge seabirds that stalk tropical coastal areas. With their long pointed wings, beak, and slender, forked tail, they almost look like modern pterodactyls!

These birds are extremely aerodynamic and spend most of their time on the wing. Although they don’t actually fly extremely fast, Magnificent Frigatebirds are true masters of flight.

Usually, they soar high above beaches until they see a fishing boat, schooling fish, or another smaller seabird carrying a fish.

The frigatebirds then swoop down to snatch fish from the surface or can chase terns and gulls to steal their catch. They are experts at pursuing these smaller birds and stay right on their tails!

 

#7 Eurasian Hobby

Max speed: 99 mph
Length: 11 to 14 inches
Wingspan: 29 to 33 inches

Eurasian Hobbies are small falcons that most live in Europe and Asia. Rarely, one shows up in North America. Perhaps those lost birds flew a bit too far? Or, maybe they just felt like exploring?

Eurasian Hobbies can certainly fly fast enough to reach new and exciting places! These small falcons love to be on the wing. They soar over semi-open areas and watch for swallows, swifts, and other small birds.

If the falcon sees one it thinks it can catch, like a bullet, it flies right at the bird! The Hobby pursues until it can catch up to the unlucky bird and grasp its prey with sharp talons.

 

#6 Common Swift

Max speed: 103 mph
Length: 6.5 inches
Wingspan: 16 inches

Common Swifts are complete aerialists. The cigar-shaped birds with long, pointed wings are so adapted to flying, they even sleep while in the air!

Like other swift species, Common Swifts soar and zip through the skies to catch small insects with their wide, open mouths. While foraging and courting with each other, Common Swifts can rocket through the skies.

Amazingly, these masters of flight can reach speeds of 100 mph! That comes in handy when they are attacked by falcons that cam move even faster. To escape falcons, swifts keep an eye out for the quick raptors and stay out of their hunting range.

 

#5 White-throated Needletail

Max speed: 105 mph
Length: 7.8 inches
Wingspan: 11 inches

The White-throated Needletail is another swift species that flies at incredible speeds. All swifts are fast but this species can go faster than 100 mph! Like other members of its aerialist family, the White-throated Swift has a tapered, tube or cigar-shaped body that helps them slice through the air with ease.

They also have long, slender, pointed wings that they can use for soaring as well as quickly beating them for fast, direct flight. Like the Common Swift, White-throated Needletails fly fast so they can forage over larger areas.

They also need to fly quickly so they can escape from predators, and to migrate long distances.

 

#4 Gyrfalcon

gyrfalcons are fast fliers

Max speed: 130 mph
Length: 22 inches
Wingspan: 47 inches

Gyrfalcons are the biggest falcons on the planet. They also fly as fast as a runaway train! These hefty falcons are deadly Arctic predators with long, pointed wings and a tapered shape that help them reach speeds of 130 mph.

They live in open places where they watch for birds and other prey from a cliff or other elevated perch. When a Gyrfalcon spots a ptarmigan or other animal, it takes to the air and then picks up speed as it flies directly towards its prey.

The falcon usually courses low, hugging the ground and flying faster so it can catch the animal by surprise.

 

#3 Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle

Max speed: 200 mph
Length: 30 inches
Wingspan: 6.5 feet

Golden Eagles are one of the most powerful raptors. These impressive birds are top predators because of their large size, fierce hooked beaks, and strong feet tipped with long, sharp talons. However, Golden Eagles also sit at the top of the avian food chain because they are fantastic fliers.

We usually see these large raptors using their long, broad wings to soar high overhead and lazily flap from one hunting area to the next. However, when they pursue prey, Golden Eagles turn up the speed.

The eagles swoop down on prey at high speed, and can even reach diving speeds of 200 mph!

 

#2 Saker Falcon

Max speed: 200 mph
Length: 18-22 inches
Wingspan: 38 to 50 inches

The Saker Falcon is a true contender for the title of fastest flying bird. These falcons have long been prized by falconers for their power and speed. Closely related to the Gyrfalcon, this big and bulky falcon is a powerful bird that flies down ducks, partridges, rodents, and other prey.

Like the Gyrfalcon, it flaps its long, pointed wings to fly fast and direct at its prey. In straight flight, they probably reach speeds of an incredible 93 mph!

However, when Saker Falcons dive on prey, they can go as fast as 200 mph! This rare falcon hunts in the open plains of central Asia and winters in parts of southern Asia and Africa.

 

#1 Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcons are the fastest birds in the world

Max speed: 242 mph
Length: 16 inches
Wingspan: 41 inches

Peregrine Falcons are well known for being the fastest bird in the world.

Truly built for speed, these sleek and powerful raptors have a tapered, aerodynamic shape, and long, pointed wings that slice through the air.

Peregrine Falcons hunt for their avian prey by watching from a cliff, building, or other high perch, and then flying out to catch it. They can also soar or fly around while hunting and often chase down sandpipers, ducks, pigeons, and other quick birds.

Peregrines can catch prey in direct flight, but they usually fly high above and then dive down on the hapless bird at speeds that can exceed 200 mph!

 

Fastest Flying Birds – Frequently Asked Questions

What bird is the fastest bird in the world?

The fastest bird in the world is the Peregrine Falcon. This powerful raptor can dive as fast as 242 miles per hour!

What bird has the fastest-moving wings?

In flight, hummingbirds are the birds that have the fastest-moving wings. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird can beat its 50 times a second, and possibly even 200 times per second during courtship!

Which bird runs fastest?

The Ostrich is the bird that runs fastest. Ostriches can reach running speeds of 43 mph.

About the Author

Patrick O'Donnell

Patrick O'Donnell has been focused on all things avian since the age of 7. Since then, he has helped with ornithological field work in the USA and Peru, and has guided many birding tours, especially in Costa Rica. He develops birding apps for BirdingFieldGuides and loves to write about birds, especially in his adopted country of Costa Rica.

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