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Why peregrine falcons are the fastest animals on earth

Cheetahs are fast, but not faster than a diving peregrine falcon.

Cheetahs may take the lead in Google searches for fastest animal, but in reality the crown goes to the peregrine falcon. Reaching speeds of more than 200 miles per hour, peregrine falcons can dive faster than a moving Formula One race car.

Peregrine falcons can be found on every continent except Antarctica. They’re a type of raptor or bird of prey, which hunts other animals for food. Though they’re hard to distinguish during flight, peregrines can be identified by a yellow circle around their eyes, a slate gray to bluish back, a light-colored underside with some brown horizontal barring, and yellow talons. Their cruising flight speed is between 40 and 60 mph, but they go even faster in a hunting dive called a stoop.

Peregrines were nearly wiped out in the mid-20th century because of the pesticide DDT. The poison was used to protect crops from insects, but ultimately it did great damage to bird populations across North America. It poisoned the birds and caused thinning in their eggshells, which killed the developing embryos inside. DDT was eventually banned in 1972, and by 1999 peregrine falcon numbers made a full recovery before the group was removed from the endangered species list.

With their numbers back up, it is becoming less uncommon to see a peregrine falcon in the city. The species has slowly traded mountain cliffs for skyscraper perches in metropolitan areas. Check out the video above to learn how these formidable birds of prey are able to give cheetahs a run — or dive — for their money.