I was lounging about in my throne room when a man came to speak to me. He had one leg cut off (recently, too) and claimed he was an alchemist. He says that he wants to get revenge on the king of the neighboring kingdom, who cut off his leg with a spoon. I do not like this man so I happily agreed to the task. The alchemist said that he could reward me with an endless supply of gold, silver, and iron: by turning all of the pidgeons in my kingdom into spoons! (And good riddance, too.)

Our kingdoms are separated by a fast-flowing and impassible river which is 500m wide. No boat can survive more than a minute on those fast-flowing and dangerous waters. The alchemist, however, says that modifying the existing projectiles may solve my issue.

The counterweight trebuchet is the most far-flung of the bunch with a max range of 450 metres:


A larger trebuchet cannot be made in time, so instead the projectiles must be made to "float" the extra 50 metres. One of the knights suggested to use birds to give the stone a little extra lift. The problem is: I need the pigeons for spoons! Luckily, a swallow was spotted carrying a coconut across the realm, and it was decided to use swallows instead.

How could a medieval soceity catch a large number of birds within a day or two?

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    $\begingroup$ This is the beginning of what historians will later refer to as the Spoon Wars! $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Aug 14, 2018 at 11:47
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @MichaelK How is a question about modifying projectiles to make them fly farther related to questions asking "What would my character do in this situation?" $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Aug 14, 2018 at 11:48
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    $\begingroup$ Dear neighboor, are you aware that my castle is not just near the river? Also, this (and the last joke you did about my mother) is too much. Don't be surprised if you see my pig-mounted cavalry near your borders in the next days... $\endgroup$
    – NotATyrant
    Aug 14, 2018 at 11:58
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    $\begingroup$ You just massively changed the question from "How to adjust trebuchet ammunition properties for longer flight" to "how do I catch birds". I think it would be better to ask the "how to catch birds" question separately and roll back the edit here. $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Aug 14, 2018 at 12:35
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    $\begingroup$ As regards catching coconut-bearing swallows, any idea whether those are the African or European kind? Also, their range and mean flight speed when unladen? $\endgroup$
    – nzaman
    Aug 14, 2018 at 14:04

2 Answers 2


If you have a flock of those birds flying around, you can quickly catch a lot of them.

  • Lay a net between two high structures (trees, towers, poles, whatever your kingdom offers). Yes, sort of a finer fishing net would do.

  • Use tamed falcons to direct the flock toward the net

  • Harvest

  • Repeat if needed

The method is commonly used to catch birds, and is known as mist net.

  • $\begingroup$ How long would it take to tame the falcons? or would pre-tamed circus falcons suffice? $\endgroup$
    – Aric
    Aug 14, 2018 at 18:07
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    $\begingroup$ @AricFowler, hunting with falcons was a pretty established art in many medieval european courts. I assume even Spoonland and its neighboring realms should have experts in that art. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Aug 14, 2018 at 19:05
  • $\begingroup$ Mist netting is commonly done by conservation charities and government organisations in order to ring various bird species and take various measurements. The nets are finer than fishing nets to reduce injuries.en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mist_net $\endgroup$
    – Sarriesfan
    Aug 15, 2018 at 6:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Sarriesfan, good point, added as reference $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Aug 15, 2018 at 7:02

Switch from stone to glass or metal ammunition

There are so many parameters you can tweak on a trebuchet, but assuming that the trebuchet is built already, and has been optimized to perfection and there is nothing more you can do with it... then the answer is:

More dense ammunition

Optimising a trebuchet also includes determining an optimal weight of the projectile. Once you have achieved that, what you want is to lessen the drag on the projectile. If you have not started experimenting with with advanced shapes on your projectiles, but are still going for plain old ball shaped ammunition, the simple way to lessen drag is to make the cross section smaller.

You make the cross section smaller by cramming the same weight into a smaller sphere.

...i.e. use a more dense material.

Some values:

So switching from stone balls to flint glass or iron balls will extend the range of your shots substantially.

Edit after question edit


We are not amused...


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