Peregrine Falcons See Prey at Speeds of Formula 1 Racing Cars

Researchers Measure How Many Blinks Per Minute a Falcon Perceives

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Research confirms what we’ve suspected all along, the Peregrine Falcon has the fastest vision.

This ability is crucial when falcons bear down on its prey at a speed that easily matches that of a Formula 1 racing car.

Peregrine Falcons bear down after prey at speeds matching that of a Formula 1 racing car
Peregrine Falcons bear down after prey at speeds matching that of a Formula 1 racing car

Peregrine Falcon’s Speed of Vision

Researchers for the first time ever are studying the speed of vision among birds of prey, and how fast they sense visual impressions.

“My colleague Simon Potier and I have examined the Peregrine Falcon, Saker Falcon, and Harris’s Hawk and measured how fast light can blink for these species to still register the blinks,” says Almut Kelber, professor at the Department of Biology, Lund University.

The results show that the Peregrine Falcon has the fastest vision and registers 129 Hz (blinks per second), as long as the light intensity is high.

Under the same conditions, the Saker Falcon sees 102 Hz and the Harris’s Hawk 77 Hz.

Humans see a maximum of 50–60 Hz.

Watching a movie, a speed of 25 images per second is sufficient for us to perceive it as film, and not as a series of still images.

The Saker Falcon's vision registers at 102 Hz
The Saker Falcon’s vision registers at 102 Hz

Bird’s of Prey Vision Adapts for Hunting 

The speed at which the different birds of prey process visual impressions corresponds with the needs they have when hunting.

The Peregrine Falcon hunts fast-flying birds, whereas the Harris’s Hawk hunts small, slower mammals on the ground.

READ: WHY BIRDS OF PREY ARE SUCCESSFUL HUNTERS

Even though the vision speed of birds of prey has never been measured before, there are studies about the rate at which small insect-eating birds such as flycatchers and blue tits can take in visual impressions.

The Harris's Hawk's vision registers at 77 Hz
The Harris’s Hawk’s vision registers at 77 Hz

Bird’s Vision Adapt Based on Needs

“They also have fast vision. Therefore, we draw the conclusion that bird species that hunt prey that flies fast have the fastest vision. Evolution has provided them with the ability because they need it,” says Almut Kelber.

Potier says it’s something of a competition.

A fly flies quite fast and has fast vision. So the flycatcher must see the fly quickly to catch it.

The same applies to the falcon.

To capture a flycatcher, the falcon must detect its prey sufficiently early to react.

Researchers say this new knowledge contributes to better conditions for birds in captivity.

Read the research article, ‘How Fast Can Raptors See,’ in the Journal of Experimental Biology here.

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