Most people think the cheetah is the fastest animal in the world. These big cats can run at 105 km/h.
Certainly cheetahs are the fastest animals on land, but the peregrine falcon can move much faster. It is the fastest animal on Earth!
The bird flies through the air at 80km/h. But when it dives to make its kill, it flies at up to 322 km/h. Even a Formula One racing car would fail to keep up: it can only reach speeds of up to 300km/h.
The peregrine falcon is a great hunter. It flies through the air while looking for prey. When it sees something tasty, such as a pigeon, it tucks its wings tightly to its side, and dives.
However, when diving really fast, an animal's eyes would normally fill with tears. This makes it hard to see. But the falcon has an extra eyelid that comes over the eye during the dive to help it to keep an eye on its prey.
The peregrine falcon uses its talons to slash and kill its prey in mid-air. If it can, it carries its food to its nest. If the prey is too heavy, the falcon drops it to the ground, and eats it there.
Falcons in Hong Kong
Falcons are rare in Hong Kong. They usually visit in winter and spring.
Look for peregrine falcons near the ocean. Look for Amur red-footed falcons in Lok Ma Chau and Mai Po. Eurasian hobby falcons like to hunt in the woods.
The common kestrel is also a member of the falcon family. Look for it in fields in the autumn.
Remember not to touch these birds. They are protected. If you want a souvenir, take a picture!
You can also visit Hong Kong Park. There are 600 birds from 90 species living there, including raptors like hornbills and owls. This is also where you can join the Hong Kong Bird Watching Club.
Who's the winner?
The world's fastest human runner is Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt. The reigning Olympic and world champion achieved a world-record time of 9.58 seconds over 100metres in 2009. He's running at a speed of 37.57 km/h. So if Bolt was to race against cheetahs and peregrine falcons, who would win?
Falcons are popular because they are fast, fierce and fabulous.
In ancient Egypt, the falcon was the symbol of Horus, the god that created the Earth. Other Egyptian falcon gods were Ra, the god of the sun, and Mentu, the god of war. Ra and Mentu were depicted as men with falcon heads.
The F-16 Fighting Falcon is the name of a famous American fighter aircraft. It has long been used in wartime and for flying displays. In Pakistan, the peregrine falcon is the symbol of the air force.
In Japan, the peregrine falcon is called a Hayabusa. Motor company Suzuki has named its fastest motorcycle the Hayabusa.
Birds of prey
Falcons and other raptors love to hunt. Because of this, they are nicknamed birds of prey. In the past, hunters used tame falcons to hunt pigeons, rabbits and other game. In wartime, falcons are used to kill carrier pigeons that belong to spies.
The wandering falcon
There are 19 different types of peregrine falcons. The Southwest Australian Peregrine Falcon and a few other types live in the same place all year round.
Most other peregrine falcons love to travel. They spend spring and summer in one country, and then travel to another home for the winter.
People in ancient times named these birds peregrine, which means 'traveller' in Latin. Peregrine falcons can travel 25,000km per year.
In the 1960s, pesticides killed thousands of peregrine falcons. These birds almost died out. But in the 1990s, they were bred in zoos, and then released into the wild. Today there are wild peregrines again.
Peregrine falcons live all over the world, except in the frozen poles and in the rainforest. They usually live near the ocean or a lake. They like to nest in cliffs or on top of tall buildings.
Peregrine falcons belong to a group of birds called raptors. Their relatives include hawks, eagles and owls.
Raptors are carnivores. They have sharp hooked beaks and sharp, curved claws called talons. These are perfect for tearing meat and fish.
These birds hunt other birds. If they are very hungry, they will also eat bats, rabbits, and rats.
The enemies of peregrine falcons are bigger raptors, such as eagles and hawks.