Upside Down or Backwards

Peregrine flying upside down, Stammy at Youngstown, Ohio in 2011 or earlier (photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

29 Sep 2021

There aren’t many birds on Earth that can fly upside down or backwards.

Peregrine falcons, like fighter jets, are powerful precision fliers that can fly upside down if they want to. Though we usually miss seeing it, Chad+Chis Saladin have photographed several episodes.

Above, more than a decade ago a peregrine nicknamed Stammy nested in Youngstown, Ohio after hatching at the Cathedral of Learning in 2003. When he was a youngster I saw his father Erie do a back flip and fly upside down in front of his “kids” on the nest rail. In the photo above, Stammy shows what he learned from his dad.

Below, you might be fooled that this peregrine is flying normally because of the position of its wings and head. Wrong! It’s upside down. Notice that its dark back is facing the ground while its white-and-gray underside is facing up. The bird twisted its head almost 180 degrees to focus on prey while it dives. Perhaps this optical illusion is why we don’t realize peregrines are flying upside down right in front of us.

An optical illusion: this peregrine is flying upside down (photo by Chad+Chris Saladin, 2017)

Peregrines can flap while they’re upside down, then turn sideways to right themselves.

  • Flying upside down (photos by Chad+Chris Saladin)

Hummingbirds break all the rules. They’re the only birds that can fly both upside down and backwards. Here are two videos from southern California that show hummingbirds in …

backwards flight …

… and upside down.

Our hummingbirds have left for the winter but there are still plenty of them in the southern tier. Watch hummingbird feeders from southern California to Florida to see them fly upside down and backwards.

(peregrine photos by Chad+Chris Saladin at C&C’s Ohio Peregrine Page, tweet from Wendy @geococcyxcal, YouTube video from Taofledermaus)

4 thoughts on “Upside Down or Backwards

  1. In Southern California, December hummingbird mating season is the best, when the males put on their annual air show. If I’m lucky I get a nest under my eaves. Babies come the end of February.

  2. Thank you for this article! I never knew peregrines could fly upside down. I have a hummingbird feeder right by our back door and I watch them go backwards all the time. Never thought anything of it until this article. I just figured it was a bird thing and not unusual.

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