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In my book series, there is a planet called Aurea that is home to all sorts of strange fauna. Not only does it have animals from the real world, but it also has prehistoric and mythical creatures as well. One of them is the Argentavis, a Miocene-epoch vulture with a 30-foot wingspan and weighing up to 180 lbs. The Aureans have domesticated them, originally for their use as essentially giant hunting birds. However, they have been selectively bred so they are slightly larger, now with a 40-foot wingspan and weighing 200 lbs.

Would these creatures be able to be ridden by humans for flight purposes (and if not, how much more would they have to weigh for this to be possible?), and would keeping these creatures tamed (by a medieval-age society by the way) even be feasible?

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Yes. As a team.

http://www.furrondy.net/events/world-championship-sled-dog-races

dog sled

A full sized human is too big for a dog to pull. But many dogs working as a team can pull a sled very fast, or a heavy sled at a moderate pace. So too your birds. Your giant birds can work as a team to pull a basket-like chariot.

The cool thing about the air chariot - you can scale it up in a way that would be cumbersome for land vehicles. Birds fly in 3 dimensions and a large flock of vultures could carry a larger vehicle.


I was wondering what an aerodynamic air chariot would look like. Of course it would be a glider, and would look like a giant vulture. The outstretched wings would also give the birds above it a measure of protection from the ground. If the chariot were badly damaged or caught fire, the charioteer is clipped separately to the birds and can release the chariot to fall away, escaping into the air with the birds.

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I would say no.

An article I found http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=wildlifenews.view_article&articles_id=343 talks a little about how much a bald eagle can lift. I know it's not the same, but if you compare them and extrapolate the difference, I would estimate your bird could lift 50-75 pounds. That is if the bird snatched the ride, rather than take off with one already attached.

The domesticated horse is significantly bigger than its wild ancestor, but I'm not too sure you can selectively breed a bird to be large enough to lift an adult human. Now if your inhabitants are very small, like Homo floresiensis, then it may work, without tools or weapons.

To answer your second question, it seems a bird could lift ~25-40% of its weight. I would go with the lower number to ensure it doesn't get tired quickly. If the cities are perched on top of high cliffs, it would ensure the birds achieve enough lift to obtain flight.

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    $\begingroup$ Obligatory xkcd what-if.xkcd.com/149 . Also, don't forget the squared-cubed rule - you can't just scale a bird up to whatever size you like. At the low end there are insects that can lift 3x their body weight, but the time you get to a bald eagle it can only lift up to a third of its weight in addition to itself. Once birds get much bigger they can only just lift their own body weight, while the ostrich and emu are flightless. $\endgroup$ – KerrAvon2055 Jan 21 at 9:07
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, it was a simple correlation to show that this is probably not possible. $\endgroup$ – Sonvar Jan 24 at 5:11
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A bird can realistically lift 25% of his weight.

Assuming a 200 lbs bird can fly, a 50 lbs kid would be able to ride it but not an adult.

Keeping a tamed animal tamed is usually not difficult as long as you feed them and behave decently with them.

The usual problem is preventing them from escaping (somehow animals like to run away).

A 200 lbs bird would have a crazy high metabolism. Keeping an Argentavis fed would be really expensive. Argentavis would probably be carnivorous as meat is the most efficient source of energy and eat more than a lion.

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  • $\begingroup$ Where did you get this figure? It would be good if you gave some references. And in real life, it depends on the bird. Peregrine falcons can carry half their weight. $\endgroup$ – Peter Shor Jan 21 at 18:34
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It would be a lot easier and more possible for a traveling carnival to offer rides for children on Argentavis than to have workers commute on Argentavis back everyday or Argentavis back air cavalry.

Unless of course the adults of the intelligent species in question are the size and weight of human little children.

Maybe the Argentavis can be caught and tamed and trained by intelligent beings the size of bigfoot, but are only ridden by the children of that species and/or adults of another intelligent species the size of hobbits. Giant tamers of giant birds selling rides to dwarf riders of giant birds. The giants may mostly use the giant birds for falconry, like Mongolians with golden eagles, but also have some giant birds they sell rides on to the little people of their world.

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