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I previously made a post about vehicles for birds. Now I want to know what their equivalent to swords, spears and other weapons would look like? I based the birds off of corvids, like ravens and crows. they are about 2 Ft tall, can fly, weigh about 5 to 6 lbs., and mainly use their beak for manipulation. They live in a similar environment to the Australian Outback.

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    $\begingroup$ start with a simple question how do they use an hammer and anvil. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Feb 2, 2021 at 15:48
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    $\begingroup$ Are they fighting humans, or other birds? P.S. It is no good referring us to "a post", we need a link to find it if there is important information there. $\endgroup$ Feb 2, 2021 at 22:05
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    $\begingroup$ I'm curious why all the answers think that birds share the same biological weaknesses as humans. They don't. Far from it. $\endgroup$
    – tuskiomi
    Feb 3, 2021 at 7:04
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    $\begingroup$ @tuskiomi Birds share most of the same biological weaknesses as humans. They have finite strength, they need to eat and drink, they don't like being stabbed or crushed, they are vulnerable to extreme heat or cold, they can die from disease or poison, etc. What, specifically, are you thinking of? $\endgroup$ Feb 3, 2021 at 11:14
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    $\begingroup$ That answer doesn't look very extensive compared to what I see below. If one of the questions were to be closed and merged into the other, surely it should be that one? $\endgroup$ Feb 4, 2021 at 15:31

8 Answers 8

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You can give birds medieval levels of technology, but they will not fight excatly like medieval armies

The sky would become the preferred arena for birds to fight wars in because "high-ground" is so important to the way birds fight when trying to kill something. Attacking from above gives a bird a better attack speed which translates to a more forceful attack. It also puts an enemy more in line with its beak and talons while preventing the defender from bringing it's own beak and talons to bare. (Yes, birds squabble on the ground all the time as pointed out in comments, but these are not fights to the death.) Whenever we see a bird in nature attack to kill another bird, it is almost always from above.

So, most medieval avion battles will probably begin with both sides trying to gain elevation on the other until one side attacks either because it has achieved a distinct elevation advantage or because the other army looks like it will gain the advantage if they wait.

But many elements of a medieval army don't work in the air:

  • Battle formations: Medieval battle formations involved packing in shoulder to shoulder to create the highest possible concentration of weapons per enemy as possible, but in the air you need space between yourself and your allies to prevent your wings from hitting each other. Birds also can't "hold ground" in the air, and if they attempt to hold actual ground, then they at risk of being pelted from above by stones or other missiles without being able to attack back.
  • Armor: Even the strongest birds of prey can not carry more than 50% of their weight, and even then, it is only for short periods of time. With their whole kit having to weigh less than 2.75lb, and their wings having so much surface area, they could not armor themselves in light enough of full body armor to still fly; so, they will have to be selective in how they armor themselves.
  • Archery: You would think this would be the obvious weapon of choice for your birds, but again, the maximum lift strength of a bird leg is no more than half its weight. This would limit birds to bows with a draw weight of less than 3lb and draw length of just a couple of inches. Even a short ranged small game bow should have at least a 20lb, 28" draw; so, giving a bow to a bird would be useless.
  • Shields: Shields are not a good option for birds because they cannot hold them in-front of themselves, they can not interlock them into shield walls, and they are REALLY bad when it comes to aerodynamics.

So how would they fight?

Battle formations have very different priorities in aerial combat because you now have more flanks you need to protect, running into the guys around you are no longer an option, and, you need room to "follow through" on any attack run so that you are not just running into the guy you just attacked, and you will want to conserve energy by flying V-formations wherever possible. WWII fighter squadrons solved for this problem with the 4-square formation. Although your birds are not packing machine guns, all of the same principles that made these successful in WWII will still apply. Although the below 4-square looks like a lose formation, multiple 4-squares are meant to overlap in such a way that they are pretty dense while still having the flexibility to break formation just enough to maneuver as needed.

enter image description here

For armor, you can not protect the whole body, but birds present a relatively small frontal cross section. So by limiting armor to just a helmet, pauldrons, and possibly a gorget, they can protect all of their vital spots during a charge without too much weight.

As for weapons: By moving fast and attacking on the pass-by, your birds would fight in a very similar fashion to light cavalry; so, weapons that work well from horseback would likely be the predominate weapons for birds.

One option is lances which are long spears that can be precisely aimed to impale enemy birds at speed and then released as you fly past. They will probably use their feet for this to prevent them from breaking their necks on impact.

Another popular option may be javelins. While a bow is not useful, the speed of your birds passing by each other will still be significant. So, instead of moving into a melee, you could throw a javelin at relatively close range, then veer away from the enemy. With both birds moving at each other with a cumulative relative speed of about 27m/s, this means your javilins will hit just as fast as a human can throw one just by letting it go. Any additional speed your birds can throw them with will help with control and added force, but will not be necessary to impale an enemy.

Lastly, having some kind of sabre as a side arm may be popular. Unlike spears or thrusting swords, sabres were popular among light cavalry for their ability to cut down a foe at speed without getting your weapon stuck in them and lost. Sabers will also be particularly useful when you get behind or above another bird preventing you from attacking at a high relative speed.

enter image description here

Could they actually carry and wield this much?

While Ravens and Crows are known to do a lot of their more precise manipulations with their beaks, it is more common for them to carry sticks or food or other heavy stuff in flight with their talons. That said, at 5-6 lbs (2268-2722 grams), the OP's birds are actually bigger than any species of crow or raven; so, to find the lifting strength of these birds, we need to look at other birds in this weight class to make sure that the square-cube law does not get the better of us. The OP's birds are actually the size of a mid-sized species of Eagle (African Fish Eagle, Bonelli's Eagle, etc.), and most Eagles can lift between 30-50% of their body weight with their talons while in flight. This puts the encumbered lift weight of your bird's talons at about 1kg.

Weight of a lance: A typical warlance extended about 2-3 meters beyond a rider's hand-grip, which scaled down to your 2ft (.6m) tall birds would be about 1 meter. A 1 meter long, .75cm diameter hardwood pole (such as hickory or ash) weighs about 44grams and an iron lance head of appropriate size would weigh about 10 grams for a total weight in front of the talon of 54grams. Then, to make the lance stable, you add a sauroter to the back of the lance so that the few inches behind the talon also weighs 54 grams for a total lance weight of 108 grams. At ~1/10th of the bird's encumberment weight, this would be very comparable to a human carrying a human scale lance or similar polearm which typically weighed at least 5kg.

Weight of the armor: The total area of the armor would likely be no more than 200cm^2 since you are not covering the whole body. It needs to be able to deflect the force of a 900J lance strike, but has a lot of good slopes; so, I estimate its average thickness needs to be about 1mm of steel backed with an arming jacket based on what I've seen of comparable tests done with modern recreations of historical armor. This gives you about 160g of steel and 20g of arming jacket for a total of about 180g of armor. At about 1/5th the encumberment weight, this is actually much lighter relatively speaking than historical infantry were expected to march in, but the lower weight is still recommended to allow for appropriate aerial agility and endurance. There may be some cases where the addition of a full cuirass is preferred, but this would probably not be common in my opinion.

Weight of a Javelin: A 50 gram throwing dart can pierce exposed flesh pretty effectively if properly sharpened; so, I imagine this would be the lower end of what they would carry. I would imagine your birds will likely open up the attack as the Greeks did with skirmishers who might carry 2-5 such javelins each, then fall back allowing the armored lancers to take advantage of the chaos this causes in the enemy formation. Skirmishers were typically unarmored or very lightly armored so, if they just have the darts to worry about that is probably about 250g of darts (aka: Javelins). So a 5 dart bird would have about the same amount of encumberment as a front armored lancer.

As for swords: I think we've established by now, weight is not really an issue here, but there is the concern about hand-grips. Birds appear to have similar rotational ranges of motion to humans at the "wrist" and "elbow", but less range of motion at the "shoulder" <-quotes because on birds these are leg parts, not arm parts. This may encourage a different set of techniques than humans use like maybe preferring a reverse grip, but they still have plenty of dexterity to work with since birds use their feet like hands so much anyway. You can also make some assumptions that if these birds are advanced enough of tool users to become medieval, they probably have much more dexterous feet than other birds just as humans have much more dexterous hands than other mammals.

Why not just Augment what they already have?

For all the same reason humans don't typically just augment our own natural weapons. While there are some historical examples of weapons designed to accentuate the way a human would fight unarmed, (See Bagh nakh or Katar), these weapons were not very historically successful compared to weapons designed to improve on how we naturally fight. Lances, sabres, and thrown weapons all help you create distance, optimize wounding, and open up new vectors of attack that natural weapons do not. This remains true whether you are humanoid or avion. So if a murder armed with steel claws and beaks were to engage another murder armed with spears and swords, those armed with the spears and swords would be at a distinct advantage.

enter image description here

What about fortifications?

European medieval castles are poorly designed to protect against an aerial threat. A Japanese castle would work better because it's top is closed off, but it's still is not great because of all those windows become possible access points for enemies, and there is no good way to stop attackers from just hacking in through your roof.

An ideal castle design will take everything that makes birds good at attacking down, and be built around forcing the enemy below your defenders; so, I suspect that cliffside fortifications might by the preferred design. By tunneling into a cliff face, and digging fortifications upwards from there, you can create a series of murder holes and defensible portcullis like grates above the attackers as they work their way in that they will not be able to effectively attack up at.

enter image description here

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  • $\begingroup$ "The sky is of course the preferred arena for birds to fight in", I don't think I've ever seen birds fight in the air. Chase maybe, but not fight. They do their fighting on the ground and in the trees. $\endgroup$
    – pipe
    Feb 3, 2021 at 5:59
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    $\begingroup$ "[defensive] Battle formations" - that's exactly what murmurations are; huge swarms of closely flying birds ensuring their communal nesting sites are safe $\endgroup$
    – freedomn-m
    Feb 3, 2021 at 12:27
  • $\begingroup$ The problem with any sort of throwing weapon is that it's single use. Bows are different because you can carry a few dozen arrows. It may be helpful as a secondary weapon, to use at the start before switching to your primary weapon. But if you're already heavily weight-limited, I'm not sure whether it'd be worth the extra weight. $\endgroup$
    – NotThatGuy
    Feb 3, 2021 at 12:59
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    $\begingroup$ "Why not just Augment what they already have? For all the same reason humans don't typically just augment our own natural weapons." - Not sure I agree with this equivalence. Combat in the air is very different from combat on the ground (it's probably much faster and much more focused on agility and dodging) and claws are much worse at carrying weapons and much better at quickly inflicting damage by themselves than hands are. $\endgroup$
    – NotThatGuy
    Feb 3, 2021 at 13:36
  • $\begingroup$ @freedomn-m Murmurations are are nowhere near as dense as the pre-modern infantry formations used throughout history. The a 4-block formation can give a denser battle line than a murmuration because you are planning how your birds will move around each other instead of leaving enough margin to do it intuitively. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Feb 3, 2021 at 14:50
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Augment crow biological weaponry.

crow w armor

It makes sense to humans to hold something and hit with it. That would not make sense to a crow. Crows fly in then hit with claws. When close on or foot, they hold and strike with the beak. A crow would like to be able to hit hard without fear of hurting itself, as is possible for a human hitting with a stone in hand.

Crow weapons will fortify and strengthen the weapons they already have. A helmet protects the head and neck but also provides a sharpened metal beak protruding past and protecting the crows own beak. Talons protrude past the crow's own talons, allowing hard strikes without risking damage to the toes.

The crow weaponry as depicted (thanks Mushi!) would not impair the use of the features it protects. The crow can talk and eat. It can perch and walk.

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Nets. A group of sentient birds could painstakingly weave a net, cleverly roll it up with an easy way to release it, and carry it as a large group in a coordinated attack. Dropped onto an enemy flock, it could interfere with their flight and cause great harm.

Fire. Even a tiny vessel of flaming liquid, well dispersed, or spread along the lines of a net to be lit and dropped, should ruin an enemy bird's whole day... if you can hit it. Or try corrosives - acid, lye.

Shield bash: A light net, woven with the intent of being held rather than dropped, probably with a solid (spiked?) boss in the middle, by which a numerically superior force of birds can rush at an enemy and strike with solid force.

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If I were in charge of a bird army tasked with fighting other birds then I might think of weapons like the broken glass coated kite strings used in kite fighting. A bird attacking from above might attack with it's talons and then deploy a sharp tangling weapon( such as a glass coated string or string of fishing hooks).

Another thought that pops into mind is that nets would both be easily constructed by advanced birds and also be a great offensive weapon in bird to bird combat.

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Some years ago I was on a vacation and, while taking a break on the side of the road carved on a hill, I saw a crow struggling to carry the corpse of a weasel across the road. Since it wasn't able to fly carrying it, it was jumping up and jump after jump taking it across the road, from where it was planning of gliding further down.

Long story short: birds are generally not good at carrying additional weights. Even eagles hunt up and nest down, so that they can glide to their nest while carrying their preys.

This means that the load of your avian people will be necessarily light. They might drop something akin to a morning star to increase the damage, or small stones lacking anything better. Another option might be dropping small pots of boiling oil, caustic or incendiary substances.

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Small animals

And other small animals. If they are intelligent then they know which animals are vectors for diseases that attack their enemies. Rats, for example, carry fleas which can spread the plague.

So all they need to do is drop a few animals in key locations, and then wait. This works on any technology level. Is everyone medieval? Drop rats as mentioned above. 2020's? Dead bats and baby pangolins may carry a flu like disease that is sure to cause a lot of damage.

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Cavalry for example domesticated eagles, with their talons, or you could invent another dive bomber bird that lacks strong innate weapons and have your crow use a lance. The crow riding the large bird can wear armour, either leather or bone (lightweight) or possibly even metal (heavy cavalry).

Archery whether mounted (more arrows, food for longer range) or solo.

Melee you could consider light infantry or Vikings (gambesons, spears or axes, small shields)

Knights in contrast to several answers above, typical human can also only lift half their weight (e.g. this regulation) that doesn't stop humanity from training small groups who can lift (e.g. here) and elite individuals perhaps double own body weight (records). Likewise, peasant foot soldier would neither be expected to nor could afford armour, but knights would.

Fortifications in contrast to Nosajimiki's answer, I think it makes perfect sense for crows to build fortified nests (forts) and roosts (castles) to establish long supply lines which are a necessity in large-scale organised warfare. Smaller could be built on top of trees, but larger would have to be built on solid ground to protect from beaver-sappers, and could be equipped with cross-bows, ballistas as well as oil and fire for immediate defence. Additionally it makes sense to control land and its resources, such as water, food production, raw materials and manufacturing base (towns).

Supply train could be aerial or overland, in either case protected by medieval air-superiority fighters (cavalry).

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    $\begingroup$ I was think in terms of battlefield tactics when I said they can not "control ground", but you do make a good point about static defenses. Fortified structures are a good consideration that I overlooked. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Feb 3, 2021 at 18:37
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We might not recognise their weapons as being so...

Let's think about it:

  1. Birds need to fly, staying on the ground will kill them, as there they are easy prey to a lot of things.
  2. Crows are not big*, let's say they can carry a maximum of 10% of body weight.
  3. Carrying extra stuff will reduce speed and agility.
  4. In WW1 & WW2 fighter aircraft there are 3 items of importance: Speed, Agility and offensive power.
  5. The more distance you can keep to your enemy, the better.
  6. Speed is gold.
  7. Agility is silver.
  8. Long weapons are very unwieldy in a 3D environment.
  9. Slow and in formation are easy to be picked off.
  10. Shards of glass in the air. Area of denial weapon?
  11. With hundreds of even thousands of birds in the air, even bird droppings might be an effective weapon to slow the enemy down / restrict movements.

Combining the above into fighting styles:

  1. Speed and Offensive power (hit and run, skirmishers)
  2. Speed and Agile (Pack fight / Dogfight)
  3. Agile and Offensive power (Wrestler)

Possible Weapons for the Styles:

  1. Skirmishers:
    1. A flock armed with javelins / darts for harassment.
    2. (Very) Sharp eyed shooters with something like a crossbow, shoot and drop to return to safety.
    3. Ropes with glue, let it stick to enemy wings, there goes mobility and maybe even control.
  2. Dog-fighters:
    1. Sparingly armoured, if at all, with maybe a sabre. (think light cavalry)
    2. Javelins or darts again.
  3. Wrestlers:
    1. Grab and tear birds. Armoured, but not sure how to do so without being sitting ducks to the skirmishers.

How does this look?

Like a giant furball where it will be hard to tell for a human what is going on. There will be a lot of manoeuvring for position. Due to the weight limitations and the importance of agility and speed, being so much different then ours, they might use weapons we do not recognise.


*Humans can carry about 20% of their bodyweight without problems (80kg human can carry 20kg for hours).

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  • $\begingroup$ Most soldiers throughout history were expected to carry about 70lb (32kg) of gear. This is about 50% of the weight of an average pre-modern man. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Feb 3, 2021 at 22:57
  • $\begingroup$ "Speed is gold." Energy is gold. "Dog-fighters: Sparingly armoured". That depends on your doctrine; US fighter planes in WW2 were pretty heavily armored. (The drawback was that they were big, and not the nimblest fighters.) "Javelins or darts" How do birds carry and throw them? $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Feb 4, 2021 at 0:23

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