Google Answer Common Question: Are Ravens Fly As Fast As On Game Of Thrones?

Articles Jul 16, 2019 11:07

Being known as one of the fastest animal, ravens have been shown on the tv show Game Of Thrones left a lot of people wondered how this crow looking bird can race as fast as the speed of a cheetah. Millions of question have been asked on Google and today we'll asnwer most of the common one.

When it comes to speed records, one animal beats all others on both land and a Google search. But the cheetah has now been usurped by the not-so-humble raven. This is thanks to a particularly fantastical bit of editing in the penultimate episode of season seven of Game of Thrones. No spoilers here. All I’ll say is that it left the audience wondering just what kind of flight speed the daddy of the crow family can muster if it were to have travelled such long distances in what appeared, at least on screen, to be such little time. (My favourite meme featured a raven with jet engines under its wings.)

If, like me, you’re a fan of animal record breakers, you’ll know the fastest flight recorded is the stoop of a peregrine falcon – over 200mph. That’s vertical though, plunging down toward prey, so it’s working with gravity not against it. Flying horizontally takes more effort so we can expect speeds to be lower.

Various adaptations give different bird species a speed boost – from the powerful wing muscles of the migrating eider duck, to the streamlined shape of a hunting falcon. The Guinness Book of Records touts the grey-headed albatross as the fastest bird in level flight with an estimated ground speed of 78.9mph recorded for one bird. While albatrosses have an impressive gliding adaptation that keeps them aloft with little effort, this one was probably also helped by strong storm winds in the Antarctic.

Ravens use thermals to travel long distances with little energy expenditure, much like eagles and other large birds of prey

Ravens (Corvus corax) are the largest of the corvids – a notoriously brainy bird family that includes crows, jays and magpies. While much has been written about their intelligence, there are fewer studies on their flying habits. Ravens are skilled aerobatic flyers, seemingly enjoying being on the wing in blustery conditions. Their long, pointed wings allow them to manoeuvre rapidly, and with a wingspan of over a metre, they can also soar – using thermals to travel longer distances with little energy expenditure, much like eagles and other large birds of prey.

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Matthias-Claudio Loretto of the University of Vienna, Austria, has recently conducted the first studies to track the movements of ravens using GPS. “They are definitely good flyers, but also not real champions,” he tells me. “Other species are perfectly adapted to fast long-distance migration which is not the case in ravens. They are in most areas – except for the Arctic region – non-migratory and move rather opportunistically.”

Matthias and his team found that ravens in the Eastern Alps flew relatively short distances. The maximum distance in a day was around 100 miles (164 km) but he describes this as “exceptional”. The fastest bird in the study clocked in at close to 25mph.

Google Answer Common Question: Are Ravens Fly As Fast As On Game Of Thrones?
A raven flying over Beinn Dearg near Ullapool, the Scottish Highlands. Photograph: Alamy

So wild ravens generally don’t need to get anywhere in a hurry. Of course, the ravens behind the Westeros postal system are all trained by the maesters, so we need to consider habituated animals for a fair comparison. Bird trainer Lloyd Buck loves nothing more than to feature the talents of his feathered friends in exhilarating film work. This includes a YouTube video for BBC Earth that puts Lloyd’s raven through its paces alongside a peregrine falcon.

The raven in the video, called Bran, (no connection to House Stark, although its no coincidence since it’s the Welsh word for raven) successfully kept up with Lloyd as he was driven along an airfield at 48mph. Bran’s average speed was recorded at 40mph. Interestingly, this wasn’t for a food reward – as it was for the peregrine – but to be close to Lloyd; the raven considers his trainer to be his life partner.

Unlike the sullen soothsayer of Westeros, Bran is a very sociable bird (with the standard two eyes). Lloyd tells me one of his favourite activities at this time of year is to go foraging: “He loves to go out blackberrying with me, and flies ahead and waits by the bushes. Then I lift him up within reach on my arm, and he picks the ripe ones, and likes me to pick them for him as well. I think he sees this as a real pair-bonding thing to do.”

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In summary then, at average speeds (up to 25mph) a wild raven can cover up to 100 miles in a day. Yet the bird’s performance can be enhanced through co-operation with a human. A trained raven’s top recorded speed is around 48mph. Is your disbelief suitably suspended?

Add in the rumoured use of ravens for espionage during the cold war and the mythical role of the birds as harbingers, and perhaps the Game of Thrones team weren’t winging it after all.

The answer to how fast a dragon can fly will take a lot more explaining.

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