Yavapai College PAC - oxymorons

Home | Classifieds | Place an Ad | Public Notices | Subscriber Services | 928 Media Lab | Real Estate Search | Galleries | Obits | Yellow Pages | TV Listings | Contact Us
The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

home : features : getting out July 24, 2014

7/11/2013 6:00:00 AM
How fast do birds fly?
Eric Moore
Courier Columnist

Have you ever wondered how fast birds fly?

I had a unique experience this past Sunday evening as I was driving. It was slightly after 8 p.m. when I observed a fairly large bird fly across the road, up ahead of me. It was well past sunset, which made me think - ever so briefly - that perhaps it might be either a poorwill or a whippoorwill, as that is the time of day when these birds are active.

After the bird flew across the road, it proceeded to fly parallel to the road, and I caught up with it and was driving at the same speed at which it was flying. I looked over at it and realized that it was a Cooper's hawk. At that moment, it was flying approximately 30 miles per hour, based on my car's speedometer.

I have had similar experiences with other species over the years in which I have attempted to clock birds in flight based on the speed I was going in my vehicle. I have done this on several occasions with Mourning Doves. They seem to be comfortable cruising anywhere between forty and fifty miles per hour, with what appears to be very little effort.

In the book, 'The Birders Handbook,' there is an interesting essay on the topic of how fast birds fly. The comment is made that there is a considerable difference between the speed at which a bird can fly and the speed at which it normally does fly.

Cruising speed for most bird species is anywhere between twenty to thirty miles per hour. However, if they are being chased, or if they are doing the chasing, they can certainly fly considerably faster.

It is interesting that the size of a bird has little bearing on the speed at which it can fly. It has been documented that hummingbirds and geese can reach similar maximum speeds. I think the size of the bird influences our perception of how fast it is flying. For example, a hummingbird flying at 30 miles per hour appears to be going much faster than a raven flying 30 miles per hour.

Wing shape has the largest impact on flight speed. Most songbirds have short wings that more or less taper to a point at their outer tip. This type of wing structure allows these kinds of birds to take off rapidly, but they are not designed for flying at high speeds for sustained periods of time. Think of Gambel's quail - they are capable of powerful flight, but only for short distances.

Bird species with large, broad wings, such as vultures, hawks and eagles, are designed for soaring, but they certainly can fly at tremendous speeds for short periods of time, particularly when they are in pursuit of prey.

When I lead bird walks, I point out the different flight patterns that are observed in the species we are seeing. Swallows, for example, have a flight pattern that is referred to as "aerial foraging," in which they catch insects while in sustained, continuous flight. Hummingbird flight behavior is referred to as "hover and glean" as they gather nectar and insects while hovering.

Flycatchers, phoebes and kingbirds employ a foraging technique referred to as "hawking." They sally out from a perch on short flights to capture flying insects. As you learn the different flight patterns that are unique to specific bird species, you can begin to categorize birds into families just by observing their flight behavior.

Until next week, Happy Birding!

Eric M. Moore is the owner of Jay's Bird Barn, with two locations to serve northern Arizona - 1046 Willow Creek Road in Prescott, and 2360 State Highway 89A in Sedona. Eric has been an avid birder for more than 45 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email eric@jays birdbarn.com.

Related Stories:
• Bird-watching can be as easy as stepping outdoors
• Hummingbird Festival is coming to Sedona Aug. 2-4

    Recently Commented     Most Viewed
4 GOP candidates vie for 2 seats in Legislative District 1 (13 comments)
Letter: Angry talk won't solve border problem (64 comments)
Editorial: Gaza, Ukraine lead to thoughts of war (24 comments)
Execution takes hours; governor wants review of process (1 comment)
Letter: Where would we be without animals? (16 comments)

Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, July 12, 2013
Article comment by: Clarification Man

Just to be clear: Gambel's quail is not a songbird.

Posted: Thursday, July 11, 2013
Article comment by: King Arthur

What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow? African or European...

Article Comment Submission Form
Comments are not posted immediately. Submissions must adhere to our Use of Service Terms of Use agreement. The email and phone info you provide will not be visible to the public. Rambling or nonsensical comments may not be posted. Comments are limited to 1300 characters or less. In order for us to reasonably manage this feature we may limit your comment entries to five(5) per day.
Submit an Article Comment
First Name:
Last Name:
Anti-SPAM Passcode Click here to see a new mix of characters.
This is an anti-SPAM device. It is not case sensitive.

Advanced Search

HSE - We want to hear from you
HSE - Circulation Costco Memebership offer
HSE- Rants&Raves
Find more about Weather in Prescott, AZ
Click for weather forecast

Quick Links
 •  Submit site feedback or questions

 •  Submit your milestone notice

 •  Submit your letter to the editor

 •  Submit a news tip or story idea

 •  Place a classified ad online now

Find It Features Blogs Milestones Extras Other Publications Links
Classifieds | Subscriber Services | Real Estate Search | Galleries | Find Prescott Jobs | e-News | RSS | Site Map | Contact Us
Yavapai College - Fall semester

© Copyright 2014 Western News&Info, Inc.® The Daily Courier is the information source for Prescott area communities in Northern Arizona. Original content may not be reprinted or distributed without the written permission of Prescott Newspapers, Inc. Prescott Newspapers Online is a service of Prescott Newspapers Inc. By using the Site, dcourier.com ®, you agree to abide and be bound by the Site's terms of use and Privacy Policy, which prohibit commercial use of any information on the Site. Click here to submit your questions, comments or suggestions. Prescott Newspapers Online is a proud publication of Western News&Info, Inc.® All Rights Reserved.

Software © 1998-2014 1up! Software, All Rights Reserved