The fastest raptor
Built for speed, the peregrine falcon’s anatomy allows it to fly at an unbelievable pace
The peregrine falcon isn’t just the fastest raptor – this bird’s 200-mile-per-hour (321.9-kilometre-per-hour) nosedive means it is widely considered to be the quickest animal on Earth!
Peregrine falcons can be found on every continent except Antarctica. They’re a common sight worldwide, but it wasn’t always this way. The pesticide DDT almost wiped these impressive birds out in the 1960s, poisoning them and preventing successful breeding due to the unnatural thinning of their eggshells. Thankfully, DDT was banned in the 1970s, and peregrines have been thriving ever since.
These falcons are among the most recognisable urban birds, often making their nests on skyscrapers and other tall buildings while patrolling the skies in search of pigeons to feed on. Once they’ve settled in a spot, peregrine falcons prefer to stay put; some populations have returned to the same nesting sites for hundreds of years.
Almost everything about the peregrine’s anatomy is built for speed. Its large keel (a modified breastbone specialised for flight) allows extra muscle and flapping power, while its pointed wings and slim feathers make it extremely aerodynamic. Its respiratory system has also evolved to handle breakneck speeds, with specially adapted air sacs and a strong, rapid heartbeat that keep its body oxygenated at twice the flying speed most birds can handle.