In this answer https://worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/a/25219/50641 (to the attached question) one of their counter points was "oh, crows use tools, therefore, human advantage negated".

That got me thinking, could crows build a spaceship?

Obviously not with their current level of intelligence, so I propose the following scenario.

A trickster god (we'll blame Loki) has transformed every member of the human race into a crow, and set out a challenge for us. If we can land a crow(man) on the moon, grab a relatively small rock (say, one pound) and return it to Earth, we will be restored to our original form (and we'll all get ice cream, yay!).

Some ground rules.

  • Crowmans are completely identical to crows (or ravens if that's more convenient/thematically appropriate) biologically, but they have the full intelligence, personality, and skills that they had while they were human, without needing the requisite brain matter.
  • Crowmans either speak some variant of crow that is functionally equivalent to their human language, or just are capable of speaking that language intelligibly regardless of whether a real crow could actually pronounce all of it.

  • Lifespan. The crows also gain the benefit of a human length lifespan, if it is necessary.

So, would the crowman race ever be able to succeed at this task? Would they even be able to survive?


3 Answers 3


Yes they would, but by the time they get there would they want to?

Changes like this usually start with a lot of death, this is no different. Let's assume Loki has been friendly enough to make sure the crowmen can completely control their body and to open any doors, windows and entrances we need just to get in and out of our homes, work and facilities. From a quick search Crows seem capable of surviving in a range of hot and cold climates, so let's assume most crowmen survive their chosen environment despite suddenly not being able to wear their normal protective clothing. Now we still need to watch out for all the birds of prey that might want to eat us (and all the cats, dogs and other pets that don't have a problem killing/eating crow), and we are now surrounded by machinery, homes and tools all build for humans. Food is going to be hard to get by and many many crowmen will starve.

Humans are resourceful, so the crowmen will organize and try to start rebuilding society. This means repurposing what tools they can, and starting to recreate societies: Reinvent homes for crowmen, creation and gathering of food, construction of tools and generation and transportation of consumer goods. They will likely commit genocide on several forms of bird of prey until these birds stop eating the crowmen, but humans aren't very concerned about mass-extinction on the best of days and if it's a creature that's actively killing them any qualms about murdering every last one go out the window.

Since most infrastructure of the human empire is useless (although the cabling and pipes already laid down will be useful) the crowmen will need to rebuild just about everything. Here they hit another one of their big hurdles: Hand-eye coordination. Crows have less of it, as they either use their beak which makes seeing what they are manipulating a bit harder or they use their claws and can only really use one eye at a time to see what they are doing.

Another big hurdle is transportation. Humans load in stuff by hand all the time, on trains, trucks, boats, lorries, planes, from a conveyor belt into a box... All that is a lot harder for a crowman, especially for larger parts that need manufacturing. This means a far larger reliance on tools and machinery to do the carrying and moving for the crowmen.

As you can imagine it's going to take several generations before crowmen are back to a space-age civilization. They'll get there eventually. But when they have that technology... Do the crowmen of that time want to be human? Humans can't fly, they'll have technology all build for small crowmen and not for large humans. The generations that get the choice have all been raised by crowmen and have only ever known to be crowmen. I think it's more likely that they destroy any chance of turning back to humans. Having human intelligence in such a small body that can fly is probably incredibly useful in the long run, if only for how much food you need for the world population.

  • $\begingroup$ I like your answer, but I want to give it a day to see if someone can come up with a pessimistic answer (maybe I'll think of one myself). $\endgroup$
    – SomeGuy
    Jun 16, 2018 at 0:08
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This sounds like the groundwork for a really odd fable. Humans get turned into crows, and as they journey to become human again, they realize they don't want to. $\endgroup$ Jun 16, 2018 at 6:40

It will be a great challenge.

First of all, crowmen would have to save as much of human knowledge form disappearing. Transformation event would cause human civilization to collapse, as crowmen would not be able to use most of human tools. Most of technology would be able to function, but the process of adaptation will be hard, and crowmen civilization may fully collapse right away.

For example, we can construct a car that a crow can drive - but that's a sizable project even assuming that it's performed by humanoid people.

After crowmen civilization will hit the bottom (which can be as deep as stone edge), it will bounce back. This time, all inventions and conveniences will be built for a crowman user.

But here lies one potentially insurmountable obstacle. Human lifespan, even in harsh environments, exceeds 30 years. Lifespan of common raven is 10-15 years. Unless crowmen live as long as humans, young crowmen will not have enough time to get an education. Crowmen civilization may get stuck at renaissance level because their Newtons and Galileos would have a very short time to make a contribution.

Assuming crowmen would be able to overcome this obstacle, there is no reason to think that building a space rocket would be impossible. So, indeed, there is a chance for crowman to walk on the moon.

But then... crowmen will be changed back to men, and civilization will tumble again - because people can't use crow tools.

  • $\begingroup$ Thats a good point about the lifespans, I should have added something to the question to address that. The intent was for them to be limited in body type/tool use, rather than in intellectual potential (implied or explicit). I guess you worked around that one though. $\endgroup$
    – SomeGuy
    Jun 15, 2018 at 23:34
  • $\begingroup$ @SomeGuy it's not too late to add it now :) $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Jun 15, 2018 at 23:42

I don't think that enough crows will be able to cooperate enough to figure out what they need to do to design the tools they'll need to make a machine that can make a machine to fly to the moon.

Their only useful appendage for manipulating things are their bills. And, assuming that there were round door knobs left on the planet, and they could operate doors by cooperation, every single task they needed to do would be greatly complicated by the limitations of their physical forms. I think they could still program effectively since most programmers hunt and peck for keys anyways, it would not be a real change. But, welding and metal work and smelting are not forms a crow is well suited for. They'd need to make robots for everything, probably even opening doors. I think the investment in working around their own limitations would consume their available time to complete the project.

If they lived long enough, you are in the equivalent situation as an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite amount of time and then, yeah, they could.

  • $\begingroup$ This ignores the premise that the crows actually CAN communicate just like humans. $\endgroup$
    – Infrisios
    Jul 1, 2019 at 7:03
  • $\begingroup$ I must have missed that point in the write-up. Edited and removed the observation $\endgroup$
    – EDL
    Jul 1, 2019 at 14:46
  • $\begingroup$ Could they? Monkeys are one thing. Crows don't have the muscular structure to lift up and use any heavy (made of metal, ...) tools, nor the blanace to use it without falling over. Human hand and fingers are quite muscular. $\endgroup$
    – Lupus
    Jul 1, 2019 at 14:56
  • $\begingroup$ That is the point I am making. They'd have to make tools to make tools to make the machines they needed to make the rocket. $\endgroup$
    – EDL
    Jul 1, 2019 at 16:04

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