Super Animals: Fast Fliers, Heavy Lifters, and High Jumpers

June 23, 2006

Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's not a plane, and it's not Superman.

But with a cruising speed of about 50 miles (80 kilometers) an hour and a maximum velocity of 200 miles (322 kilometers) an hour while dive-bombing prey, the peregrine falcon flies with real-world superpower speed.

Just in time for the release of the new movie Superman Returns, National Geographic News takes a look at the falcon and other super animals that are "faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound."

(See photos of animals with "Superman powers.")


The crow-size peregrine falcon achieves its greatest speed during the "stoop"—the technical term for its dive-bombing maneuver.

The raptor folds its wings, brings its talons forward, and careens toward the outstretched wings of an unsuspecting bird flying below.

The midair impact kills the prey, which the falcon immediately snares with its talons and flies away to eat, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The peregrine falcon's speed is necessary for the raptor's survival—the bird catches almost all its food on the stoop (related photo: peregrine falcon in flight).

Michael Mace is the curator of birds at the San Diego Zoo in California. He says that the eyesight of raptors such as the peregrine falcon is another exceptional trait: It's seven times the power of human vision.

While the peregrine falcon is nature's speeding bullet of the skies, the cheetah is the fastest animal on land, according to Randy Rieches, the San Diego Zoo's curator of mammals.

Scientists have clocked the big cat running up to 70 miles (113 kilometers) an hour for short 200-yard (183-meter) bursts.

Continued on Next Page >>




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