Could a large, aggressive bird of prey take an aircraft the size and weight of two motorcycles out of the sky?

The bird is about the size of a child, but has sentient intellect. If it got through the airships weak armor, (tap your computer chassis, that's how thick) could it damage internal systems enough to destroy it, or at least put it out of control?

I'm working on a game project so it don't need exact results, but I was just wondering if this would look absolutely absurd while happening. The airship turbine driven so there is no danger of the bird getting it's flight pattern or getting shredded by turbines. Think like the snow speeders from Star Wars, but lighter.

The bird has the general specifications of a crow, aside from size of course, and is trying to take down the craft in any way possible, if that's damaging it enough for it to blow up on the ground, the sure, he'll do that, but would rather hit a cable or something to get it to blow up midair (after a timely disengage). The envelope would be to heavily protected in the center with the rest of the ship built around it, so tearing it really isn't too much of a possibility.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bird_strike (though I can't tell if your plane is or isn't jet powered--but in general, sure, if there is something within the plane that could cause catastrophic failure, a bird could cause damage.) $\endgroup$
    – DA.
    Commented May 11, 2015 at 22:19
  • $\begingroup$ Are you talking about an airship specifically or any kind of aircraft? What's the goal of the bird? Simply disable the craft, or crash it to the ground? $\endgroup$
    – Nick2253
    Commented May 11, 2015 at 22:21
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If it's an airship, wouldn't puncturing the gas bag be enough to put it out of commission? $\endgroup$
    – ckersch
    Commented May 11, 2015 at 22:26
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Need more information about the aircraft and the bird. Type of aircraft, method of locomotion, weaknesses/strengths. Bird beak/claw size/hardness, maximum speed/agility of bird, etc. $\endgroup$
    – Aify
    Commented May 11, 2015 at 22:29
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Do you care about the survivability profile for the bird? Generally speaking, bird-airplane collisions have a very low survivability rate for the feathered one. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented May 11, 2015 at 22:46

6 Answers 6


If it is a lighter then air airship the bird of that size should be able to damage the envelope enough that it would crash.

If it is a regular aircraft of some sort the bird should still be able to destroy especially it's smart about it. Aircraft require a relatively delicate balance to remain airborne and controllable so even a little damage in the right spot can crash them. I don't exactly the kind of aircraft you mean, but breaking the tail will render most types of airplanes and helicopters unflyable.

The tricky part is the airship's speed, if it is faster then the bird, the moment the bird makes contact with can be very dangerous, depending on the difference it can cause the leg to break when the bird grabs it or worse.

So generally yes, but could be dangerous for the bird if the aircraft is fast.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I wouldn't worry about the bird's legs, if it's anything like a bird of prey. Those tend to hunt with their talons, which are consequentially quite resilient. Wing injury might be a bigger problem, especially if it happens mid-air. $\endgroup$
    – Mike L.
    Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 13:41

Yeah, that's possible. Though, the birds usually die in the process.

An entry from here:

On January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 from LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte/Douglas International Airport ditched into the Hudson River after experiencing a loss of both turbines. It is suspected that the engine failure was caused by running into a flock of geese at an altitude of about 975 m (3,200 feet), shortly after takeoff.

With the bird being about the size of a child, an unnerving image, it would be easy for it to simply carry something to throw into the turbines. Perhaps something like a grappling hook, not for its intended purpose, but just because it is a chunk of metal with some tangling metal cable on the end of it.

  • $\begingroup$ The airship isn't propelled by the turbines, just motivated by them, I.e. blowing them up just slows it down or sends it into a spin, thnx. $\endgroup$
    – ruckus
    Commented May 12, 2015 at 3:49
  • $\begingroup$ @VinceScalia Motivated is a synonym for propelled. Your question asked if a bird could "take" such a craft, are you saying the ship needs to crash not be completely disabled? $\endgroup$
    – Samuel
    Commented May 12, 2015 at 3:57
  • $\begingroup$ sorry, I meant not supported. $\endgroup$
    – ruckus
    Commented May 12, 2015 at 18:27
  • $\begingroup$ @VinceScalia how do you plan for your aircraft to stay in the air if engines are disabled? Most modern heavier-then-air crafts stay in air by ...using forces that are pretty complex and not just the Bernoulli effect; but the point is that the wings must be moving fast through the air to create lift. Without forward movement the plan crashes. You could design a craft to create downward thrust, like a helicopter, but that is usually done via turbines (like a helicopter) that can also be damaged. And A lighter then air craft is light by necessity and thus easily destroyed by any bird... $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 20:45
  • $\begingroup$ A helicopter is trivial to kill: just drop a weighted rope through the rotor. If the blades intersect it then they will break off. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 8, 2017 at 12:13

Since your bird is intelligent (and quite large), if it wants to bring down an aircraft, the simplest way would be to attack the control panes.

Especially the elevator: if the bird manages to push down the elevator (it need not even be far down) and then manages to lock it, for example by something as simple as wedging a piece of wood in the gap, that would bring the aircraft down very quickly, without having to bother with damaging any part of the craft.


A sentient bird would probably cary some tools. The character in Rio 2 used a fanny pack during a long migration, and that's not realistic. I can imagine multiple implements (like the leaves in a Swiss Army Knife) strapped around the legs, or a belly pouch held very close to the body. Perhaps it could be more voluminous if it was curved to give a good aerodynamic shape. Finally, notice that a bird's neck is rather thin and the area filled out with feathers to shape the body contour. There is room under there to tuck a utility necklace without showing at all.

A sentient bird would carry a few things to suppliment his hands and strength, especially if a guest in an environment made by another species. So he may have a stiff and strong tool like a "wonder bar", and a knife, and some wrap to serve as grip wrapping or a strap wrench.

If taking off with foreknowledge of the task, he would pack something to help with that. Like, a carpet knife blade.

Thus, he would have no trouble destroying the gas envelopes. Sure, holes are remarkably ineffective, but start cutting a long line and make a gaping cavity that will not function as a bag.

If it's going down, attacking the control surfaces won't help much, unless it's to prevent them from aiming for a clearing.

If the lifting gas is hydrogen, as would be the case in a low tech setting or if helium is simply not available, then a flare would do some damage once a hole is made.


If the aircraft has wings and depends on aerodynamic lift then the best way would be for the bird to perch on one wingtip and pull up hard: their wings probably have more roll authority than the aircraft control surfaces.

However a serious problem for the birds is probably going to be catching up with the aircraft in the first place. "Two motorcycles" is maybe 400 to 500 kg, so thats a "light sport" aircraft. Something like that might do 100 knots or more. Its going to be a pretty remarkable bird that can match that in level flight (imagine a man on horseback trying to catch a car). So they are going to have to wait above the flight level, dive to match speed, and grab hold of the aircraft, which will presumably be manouvering to avoid them. Tricky, and if they miss then they don't get a second attack because the aircraft will leave them behind.

Also, what defense will the aircraft have? You mentioned armor, but sharp edges and electric shock systems spring to mind, as well as projectile weapons wielded by the pilot or passenger.


If the airship has propellers or jet engines and the birds are intelligent and don't want to sacrifice themselves then dropping rocks, nets, rope or cable onto or into the engines would probably work pretty well.

Depending on their intelligence there's other options as well. I imagine a powder charge or bags of iron filings would do terrible things if thrown into a jet engine.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .