Rating bird breeds as combat fighters | Arkansas Democrat Gazette (2024)

Watching birds fighting at a feeder Wednesday morning prompts us to wonder how various species would rate as military combatants.


Despite its small size and scant armament, the hummingbird has the potential to be a top-tier combat bird.

Small and agile, with elliptical wings reminiscent of the legendary Supermarine Spitfire, the hummingbird's lightning speed and maneuverability are unmatched. An economical powerplant maximizes small fuel capacity, providing astonishing range while enabling it to sustain near Mach speed for extended distances that other designs simply cannot match.

The hummingbird's small airframe is a difficult target for opponents. Its thin, tapered shape and tiny feathers gives it high stealth coefficient. Its climb rate is extremely fast and vertical. Its dive rate is equally fast and vertical, with excellent control and stability. Its maneuverability is peerless.

Importantly, the hummingbird's vertical short takeoff and landing capability enables it to fight in any environment, even when airfields are destroyed or non-existent.

The hummingbird's unique in-flight refueling capability enables it to remain in theater longer than all opponents. It can even continue to fight while refueling, and seems to prefer conflict in this seemingly compromised scenario.

Regrettably, the hummingbird's light armament prevents it from actually downing opponents, but its speed and evasiveness enable it to harass and intimidate opponents -- including cats -- from the battlefield. While not considered a ground support combat bird, it excels in this role. Only because of its firepower limitations, we rate the hummingbird 7.5 on a 10 scale.


Because of its aggressiveness, maneuverability and aerodynamic characteristics, Arkansas's state bird rates very highly as a combat unit.

The mockingbird's combat prowess is not just legendary, but also well-documented for driving domestic cats from the battlefield, as well as unsuspecting humans that invade its territory.

Its slow speed limits its effectiveness in thwarting fast raiders like hawks, but it performs exceptionally well against slower raiders like crows. On Monday, we witnessed a mockingbird wage a prolonged but ultimately unsuccessful aerial siege against a turkey vulture.

Exploiting the lack of a raider's topside defenses, a mockingbird attacks a raider from above, diving repeatedly while grabbing at the back with its feet and sometimes pecking. Unfortunately, its armament is too light to actually inflict damage, but the relentless pressure often forces belligerents to break off their attacks.

Unlike many songbirds, the mockingbird can sustain high speed for prolonged periods if necessary. It maximizes efficiency by diving, making a short climb, repositioning and diving again. This enables it to make multiple passes within short distances.

For its aggressiveness, overall design and efficiency in maximizing its attributes, we rate the mockingbird a 6. It would rate higher with better armament.


Because of their many similarities, we consider robins, bluejays, orioles and tanagers as a single class, with the robin being the exemplar.

The robin is a very poor combat bird. It reminds us of the P-36 Hawk, a good idea that simply didn't have any great attributes. The is underpowered for its oversized airframe. Its climb rate is very slow and labored. It also appears to be overweight in the stern, a characteristic we also see in bluejays. It seems to require considerable power to keep the fuselage level. For this reason, its flights are short in duration.

The rare time in recent history when the American robin saw action in Europe did not turn out well. A single specimen drew a large crowd of human observers when it turned up in London. A kestrel destroyed it in one swoop, leaving the crowd aghast.

The robin does have some notable attributes. It is capable of sharp, quick turns, but it is too slow to outrun a pursuer coming out of a turn. It is a slow diver with a shallow angle. I would generously rate the Robin a 3 on a 10 scale, but honestly, probably a 2.8.


With an astonishingly accurate fire control system, the great egret is extremely effective as a high-altitude bomber.

While driving on a rural road in Hot Spring County with my daughter, we observed a great egret winging more than 100 feet overhead. I remarked that it appeared to be targeting us. No sooner had the words left my lips when its full payload splattered across my windshield. A squadron in formation could inflict serious mayhem.

With their slender, aerodynamic frames and long, bi-section wings, great egrets are well-designed for flying long distances at high altitude. Their wings move a lot of air in relation to the lightweight airframe, so wing reciprocations are slow in relation to the egret's deceptively high speed.

Because the egret's aerial capabilities are limited to precision bombing, it does not rate as a fighter. However, it is extremely capable in shallow water naval operations. Ironically, it performs these duties while standing still on the ground, stabbing fish, frogs and other commandos with its sharp beak.


Versatility and specialization makes the peregrine the ultimate fighter bird.

According to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, the peregrine cruises at 25-34 mph and pursues prey at about 70 mph. Its speed and high maneuverability enable it to catch most opponents unawares and in dogfights. However, the peregrine shines brightest as a dive attacker.

Stationed at high altitude, it dives upon unsuspecting prey at speeds of up to 240 mph, striking the back and breaking the neck in one deft collision.

Every aspect of the peregrine is adapted strictly for speed, including its sleek teardrop body shape and stiff compact wing feathers which allow them to slip easily through the air with very little wind resistance.

A peregrine's heart and lungs are equivalent to having both a supercharger and turbocharger. Its heart beats 900 times per minute, contributing to maximum airflow through its oversize lungs.

A peregrine's airframe can withstand G-forces up to 25. A human fighter pilot, in comparison, can withstand only 8-9 Gs.

So demanding is peregrine training that the the attrition rate of peregrine cadets is nearly 50%.

As a fighter, the peregrine comes as close as you can get to perfection, rating 9.8.

Rating bird breeds as combat fighters | Arkansas Democrat Gazette (2024)


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