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What is the fastest flying waterfowl?

What is the fastest flying waterfowl?

When it comes to speed in the avian world, birds from the waterfowl family stand out as some of the fastest flying birds on Earth. Waterfowl are swimming birds that belong to the order Anseriformes and family Anatidae, which includes ducks, geese, and swans. Of the different types of waterfowl, certain species have evolved for blazing fast flight speeds to aid in migration and evading predators.

Fastest Flying Duck

The fastest flying duck species is the canvasback, which can reach astounding airspeeds up to 72 mph (116 km/h) in flight. The canvasback (Aythya valisineria) is a large diving duck species native to North America. It gets its name from the male’s distinctive reddish-brown colored head and neck which resembles canvas fabric. Other distinctive features include its sloping long bill and black chest and back plumage.

The canvasback’s powerful wings and aerodynamic body shape allows it to fly at high speeds. Their wingspan reaches up to 30 inches (76 cm) which gives them a large surface area for generating lift and thrust during flapping flight. Their average body weight of around 2-3 lbs (0.9-1.4 kg) is lighter than many other duck species which improves their flight efficiency and speed.

When migrating, canvasbacks can fly nonstop for up to 1,500 miles (2,400 km) at velocities around 60 mph (97 km/h). At top speeds during escape flights, they can attain 72 mph – faster than 70 mph speed limit highways! No other duck comes close to matching the canvasback’s airspeed.

Fastest Flying Goose

The fastest flying goose is the bar-headed goose which has been observed attaining speeds up to 70 mph (113 km/h) while flying. The bar-headed goose (Anser indicus) breeds in Central Asia and migrates biannually over the Himalayan mountain range between its breeding and wintering grounds.

This is an extremely arduous migration that sees the geese reaching altitudes up to 30,000 feet (9,100 m) where oxygen levels are only one-third compared to sea level. Their ability to migrate at such extreme altitudes involve physiological adaptations like larger lungs and more blood capillaries which improve their oxygen uptake and supply while flying.

Additionally, the bar-headed goose has evolved a larger wingspan, measuring up to 5 feet (150 cm), which provides more thrust and lift. Their average body mass of 6-7 lbs (2.7-3.2 kg) is also on the lower side for geese, further boosting flight efficiency. Combined together, these adaptations enable the bar-headed goose to complete one of the toughest bird migrations on Earth.

In fact, the bar-headed goose holds the record for the highest-altitude flight ever recorded for a bird at around 30,000 feet above sea level. At this altitude, they can cruise at airspeeds exceeding 70 mph. Their high altitude flight allows them to take advantage of cool updraft wind currents which aids their long distance migration between Central Asia and India.

Fastest Flying Swan

The fastest flying swan is the trumpeter swan which has been observed flying at typical speeds between 45-50 mph (72-80 km/h). However, trumpeter swans are capable of reaching top airspeeds up to 60 mph (97 km/h) when migrating or escaping predators.

With a wingspan reaching up to 7 feet (2.1 m), the trumpeter swan (Cygnus buccinator) is the largest native waterfowl species in North America. Their large wing surface area combined with a streamlined body shape produces enough lift and minimized drag to enable swift, powerful flight. The tapered shape of their wings and neck reduce drag while their long, gradual tails allow for stability in flight.

Trumpeter swans often migrate in V-shaped flocks which boosts their flight range and efficiency. The front bird reduces drag while the other birds following behind catch the uplift, saving energy during migration. Their average weight of 20-30 lbs (9-14 kg) is heavy but their huge wings still enable agile movement in the air.

Overall, trumpeter swans rank among the fastest flying swan species, using their massive wings to propel their large frames swiftly through the air at impressive speeds.

Comparison of Fastest Waterfowl Flight Speeds

Type of Waterfowl Species Top Speed (mph)
Duck Canvasback 72
Goose Bar-headed goose 70
Swan Trumpeter swan 60

As shown in the table, the canvasback is the fastest flying duck, reaching top airspeeds up to 72 mph. The bar-headed goose comes in close second, flying at speeds up to 70 mph. Meanwhile, the trumpeter swan ranks as the fastest flying swan with a top speed of 60 mph.

So in terms of absolute maximum flight velocity, the canvasback duck is the undisputed fastest flying waterfowl. The bar-headed goose can match the canvasback’s speed but has more endurance for high altitude long distance flight. The trumpeter swan flies slower than ducks and geese but is still remarkably fast for its large size.

Reasons for High Speed Flight in Waterfowl

Waterfowl like ducks, geese, and swans have evolved physiological and anatomical adaptations that enable them to fly extremely fast. Here are some key reasons why certain waterfowl species can attain such high airspeeds:

  • Migration – Flying faster allows waterfowl to travel farther distances and speeds up migration to breeding or wintering grounds.
  • Predator evasion – Achieving fast burst speeds helps ducks, geese, and swans escape from predators.
  • Larger wingspan – Long broad wings generate more thrust and lift to improve flight speed and efficiency.
  • Lightweight bodies – Reduced body mass requires less effort to accelerate their bodies through the air.
  • Streamlined shape – Tapered wings, neck, and tail reduce drag for smooth, swift flying.
  • Powerful flight muscles – Strong pectoral muscles provide more power for faster wing-flapping.
  • Efficient heart and lungs – Enables supply of oxygen to flight muscles during sustained speed and endurance.

Waterfowl have evolved these adaptations over millennia to take advantage of fast powerful flight for migration, foraging, and escaping predators. Their amazing flight capabilities and speeds are an example of evolution through natural selection.


The fastest flying waterfowl species is the canvasback duck, which can reach top airspeeds up to 72 mph. Canvasbacks have extremely swift flight thanks to their large wingspan, lightweight streamlined bodies, and strong flight muscles. Other speedy waterfowl include bar-headed geese (70 mph) and trumpeter swans (60 mph), which rank as the fastest in their respective groups.

Waterfowl like ducks, geese, and swans rely on fast flight capabilities for long distance migration, efficient foraging, and escaping predators. Their high speed is enabled by evolved adaptations like large wings for propulsion and lightweight bodies to minimize drag. So next time you see waterfowl taking flight, watch closely as they can rapidly accelerate to impressive airspeeds due to their evolutionary adaptations for speed.