In a recent Google Trend Survey request, a curious submission questioned the following: “What animal is the fastest on Earth: Cheetah or Peregrine Falcon?” The response was the cheetah by a wide margin. However when one digs a bit further or flies slightly higher, you begin to realize we are not comparing apples to apples. In fact, we are not even dealing with the same species, since one is a mammal and the other is a bird [aka ‘Aves] — and one has the land record, while the other, the sky's the limit!
How fast is fast?
To put this in perspective, ask yourself how fast can you run? Research says that human beings could run as fast as 40 miles an hour — in theory — but in actuality, our sprint speeds average closer to 12-15 mph on average.
The fastest animal on land is of course the cheetah. It can reach speeds of up to 61 miles per hour. As a sprinter and long distance runner, cheetahs are fast accelerators and ramp up their speed four times faster than human beings.
On the other hand, birds in general, have something of an advantage when it comes to speed, for obvious reasons. The peregrine falcon is particularly swift, capable of achieving speeds up to 200 mph when they dive — making it a fearsome hunter. The rest of the time they fly the friendly skies on average 60 mph. However, that’s still extremely fast for most of its prey who unfortunately can't react as quick as they should — particularly when these predators kick into those speedy dives.
Superbird takes to Tall Buildings
Peregrines typically nest on ledges of rock cliffs. However, of recent day, particularly in urban areas, falcons have been able to substitute tall buildings for nature's peaks. If you think about it, a city skyscraper is tall and constructed of concrete or stone, very similar to natural precipices. Window boxes and other building cut-outs provide an nesting areas for females to lay their eggs. Man-made nest boxes and trays lined with pea gravel are also used by falcons.
When I resided in Jersey City, New Jersey, back in 2014, I chronicled the lifecycle of a peregrine chick that was hatched high atop 101 Hudson Street, a high-rise office building that faced Manhattan and the Hudson River. Forty-two floors up, under the auspices of the NJ Division of Fish & Wildlife and the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ, I videotaped Ivy over a two-month period from her hatch date to her first flight. This five-minute musical video highlights Ivy and her parents' journey.
When do Peregrines fly the coop?
As seen in the video, the downy white feathers the nestlings have when they hatch are gradually replaced by juvenile feathers in about three to five weeks. At about 6 weeks of age, young peregrines will make their first attempts at flying. After they fledge (take their first flight), they are referred to as fledglings and will be dependent on the adult falcons until they can hunt for themselves (about 4 weeks later).
Will Peregrines come visit in South Carolina?
Now, that I have relocated to Beaufort, South Carolina, I’m curious whether northern peregrines turn into snowbirds and visit southern climes.
It’s a known fact some falcons do migrate. Peregrines in the more northern climates (Alaska and Greenland) are more likely to migrate during the winter to places that have a milder climate, such as the southern United States, Central and South America. There are some falcons in the Midwest that do not migrate because the winters are not too severe and the food source or prey base remains adequate. Peregrine actually means wanderer in Latin.
To date, during this past winter season, I’ve only caught a glimpse of a pair or two hovering over I-95 en route to Charleston and Savannah. But in my neighborhood of Hambersham, I’ve not seen any sightings.
Perhaps the ravens and cardinals have marked this territory and the peregrines migrate further south?
But I put it out there for bird lovers in general and my neighbors in particular — if you’ve spotted any of these Superbirds of the North in your travels throughout the our beautiful state?