3 December 2023
Peregrines are the fastest animal on earth when they dive at 200 mph to catch their prey in flight. In fact they dive even faster when they’re hunting an evasive bird. The higher speed increases turning force so they’re more accurate at catching prey.
In 2005 Ken Franklin went sky diving with a peregrine to clock its maximum freefall speed at 242 mph (389 km/hr). In 2018 scientists wanted to study the details of the peregrines’ dive, but it was too hard to do in real time, so they created 3D simulations of a stooping peregrine pursuing a European starling.
The simulations showed that optimal speed for catching a bird in straight flight is 93 mph but if the prey is zig-zagging in the sky the best speed is 225 mph.
You’d think that the higher attack speeds would make it more difficult for falcons to adjust to a moving target. But the opposite turned out to be true: The predators were more maneuverable at higher speeds because they could generate more turning force; only then were they able to outmaneuver the highly agile starlings. So stoops don’t just help falcons quickly overtake prey—they also help the predators change directions.— Science Magazine: Peregrine falcons maneuver best when dive-bombing at more than 300 kilometers per hour
Watch how it works in this video from Science Magazine. You’ll need these equivalents as you watch.
- 300 km/hr = 186 mph
- 150 km/hr = 93 mph
- 360 km/hr = 223+ mph. I rounded up to 225 mph