How fast do birds fly?

Someone recently told me that her kids were curious about how fast birds fly.  Good question; it got me thinking, too! For example, I've heard that falcons travel really fast in a dive, but does that count as flying?  Well, I did a little research on the topic, and here are some thoughts and resources from reputable sources.

While it doesn't give speeds for different birds, this site does talk in general about the energetics of flight and mentioned sustained flight versus short bursts (i.e. in a chase). It seems that just like humans walk and run, birds do, too!  It's interesting to think of the different energetic needs to birds, and how they might differ seasonally (for example, during the nesting season or when a bird is migrating or surviving a cold winter).

Here's a very informative page from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. This site also speaks in more general terms and gives migration speed ranges for general bird types (for example, songbirds travel 10-30mph and waterfowl are somewhat faster at 30-50mph).

So, from my little bit of research, I'd conclude that bird speeds do vary within a species as well as between species. The different conditions at which the measurements have been taken (i.e some might be measuring "top speed" versus "travelling speed" versus "migration speed") might make comparisons between different websites difficult. 

In the BirdSleuth curriculum, we recommend that educators track "I wonder" questions like "How fast do birds fly?"  This particular question requires research, can generate great discussion, and in the end leads to new questions and directions. This exploration is much of the excitement of science!

What questions do your kids have about birds? How could they go about answering them? What new directions might be explored?  What science content can you teach through these "I wonders"?

Happy exploring!
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