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The world: sky nomads in solar-powered airships, roaming planet earth

The technology level: 2030s or 2040s. The airships are similar to the IRL designs LCAT60T airship by Flying Whales, Airlander 10, and Aeroscraft made by Worldwide Aeros Corp.

The question: how do they acquire food in the sky?

You may be thinking: couldn't they just land and get terrestrial/aquatic food? Yes, they can and they do. But they're sky-folk. They love the sky. They wear feathered garb. They should eat the sky too – fish the sky so to speak. It's an æsthetic thing. Ground-dwelling birds like bustards are less suitable than high-flying birds like swans for that reason.

Now these nomads are planet-wide, so they can go to different regions, following bird migrations and flocking/nesting events. (There's an old anthropology joke: 'nomad' is a word that means 'follow the meat'.)

One way to catch them would be a net extended below the ship, similar to a fishing trawler. The airships are faster than most birds and could scoop em up. But maybe there's a more interesting technique to trap em or hook em.

Aaaand, possibly a dumb question: what about the plant component of the diet? There are no plants in the air, are there? Or does the sky have some equivalent of phytoplankton? Maybe they could gather some wind-borne pollen or seeds; do any credible food-sources of that kind exist?

Thanks worldbuilders.

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  • $\begingroup$ There are ways to do that, but keep in mind that the air (except for low, tree-line altitudes) is a "food desert" which even birds of prey ignore in their hunting. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Commented Aug 27, 2021 at 16:59
  • $\begingroup$ You seem to have answered your own question, in, well, the question (makes me wonder why you asked), nets would work fine, as would arrows tied to a string. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Commented Aug 27, 2021 at 17:23
  • $\begingroup$ "plants // do any credible food-sources of that kind exist?" no, but you've set this in the future so the sky's the limit, just add any genetically engineered floating plants you like or farm them hydroponically in their airships, push it a bit further than 2040's & no one can argue with you, much. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Commented Aug 27, 2021 at 17:28
  • $\begingroup$ What's their usual cruising altitude (compared with ground level, not sea level)? $\endgroup$
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Sep 18, 2021 at 13:52

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Air farms.

These would be zeppelins, green and festooned with vines. Each would be run by an air nomad family that would tend the crops and chase the rain. Air farms would move south and north with the seasons, keeping their fields in the sun. The individual air farmers have different theories about how to pilot the ship to grow the best crops.

There are a few semilegendary air farms that inhabit zones far above where most others stay. If you encounter one, these farms grow some very unusual crops. These high fliers are transparent and the plants grow inside the gas bag, which contains hydrogen with a little bit of CO2.

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    $\begingroup$ Cool idea. They could even fly through clouds to mist the plants. $\endgroup$
    – Ligament
    Commented Aug 27, 2021 at 20:44
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I think the easiest solution would be to provide a nesting habitat and harvest/cultivate eggs. Once semi-domesticated, older birds who no longer lay eggs can also be easily captured and culled for meat. This is basically how our neighbors currently manage their chickens.

Plants will likely grow fine in your environment, but if you are looking for plants that are not "terrestrial", there are "air plants", (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tillandsia) and some of them are apparently edible (https://biology.stackexchange.com/questions/19791/are-there-any-air-plants-with-parts-that-are-edible-for-humans)

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Hunter gatherers tend to deplete the environment fairly quickly.

There's a limited amount of food around, and high up in the sky there's even less. They can certainly hunt whatever birds if they want that are high up, or find the few floating seeds around, but there's not a lot. The sky is a food desert, and there's very little food there.

Farming is needed for large human groups.

They can grow floating gardens, breed birds for meat, and generally generate new food. It'll be very expensive in energy, but if they have enough they can do it.

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The air is a bit of a "food desert", as one commenter said, but not entirely. There are high-flying cranes, eiders, swans, swifts in there. Many birds form flocks specifically to migrate, even if they're solitary when at their grounds, and migrate at considerable altitudes. While it's true that birds-of-prey ignore the air as a food source, hawking birds do not: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawking_(birds)

The way I would handle this is basically adapt this trope – https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SpaceIsAnOcean – so that birds are fish, airships are ships. Then you have all the fishing techniques: trawling, trolling, longlining, etc. available to you. Hunters could leave the mothership in a glider or hangglider with a spear-gun or trained bird (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parahawking) to go after big game like the trumpeter swan.

This page might be of interest. It's about how radar (plus pattern-recognition software) can find big flocks of birds/bats/insects in the air: https://birdcast.info/about/weather-surveillance-radar-and-bird-migration-primer/ – think of modern trawler boats that use sonar to find shoals of fish.

Sustainability will be a concern: the air is a much thinner ecosystem than the sea, and if hi-tech aimed to gobble up all the flocks to exploit it for profit, they would destroy it in short order. If they're just trying to sustain a small population it should be alright. You mention that they get food from land and water sources as well, which helps lighten the ecological burden.

As for plant matter in the air, I found this – https://web.archive.org/web/20140602090548/http://westrocketry.com/sli2008/PLAR_MadisonWest2008.pdf – which says "we found the most pollen in the third sampling range, 2327-1580 feet. This matches the Leon findings, where they found the most pollen at 600 meters, or 1,950 feet." Some pollens are edible: https://northernwoodlands.org/knots_and_bolts/edible-cattail-pollen – You would have to think up some kind of filter that can suck in & concentrate the air's pollen.

PS: Some more math on the pollen. https://askinglot.com/how-can-you-tell-how-much-pollen-is-in-the-air says "A count of 50 pollen grains or less is considered low, and a count of 1,000 pollen grains or more is considered high. Subsequently, question is, is the pollen count high? A high pollen count is considered 9.7 to 12.0 grams of pollen per cubic meter." – so a HIGH count is call is 10g of food per m³, and a LOW count is about 0.05× that, which is really quite a lot of food if you think about it. An airship moving through the air, ingesting air through some sort of (futuristic, nano-engineered) filter, would easily pass kilos and kilos of pollen.

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    $\begingroup$ Excellent and well referenced. Welcome to worldbuiliding Humpfrey. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 28, 2021 at 11:41
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Just net some birds.

Lookout:"Captain, a murmuration of Starlings off the port bow"
A murmuration of starlings is sighted
Captain: "Helmsman, intercept! Bow nets ready to catch. Concussion grenades on my command! .
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NOW!"
*Boom Boom*
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Netsman:"Positive catch, Captain. 7 tonnes on the gauge! We feast like kings tonight!"

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Maybe build some kind of hangar ? Or use hooks to catch a smaller and more mobile flying ship ? Even it smaller they fry too you know :D It's more efficient to use smaller flying ships and make it mothership kind of idea than upgrading the mothership and make it do all the work. Hey it saved material and cost for maintaining the whole thing too :D

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  • $\begingroup$ Do humans IRL eat small little birds like swifts/swallows? I'd think they'd be too bony and barely worth the effort, but humans always surprise. And maybe the bones of those things are soft enough to chew anyway. $\endgroup$
    – Ligament
    Commented Aug 27, 2021 at 15:50
  • $\begingroup$ Apparently the Ancient Greeks ate little birds: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Greek_cuisine#Fowl $\endgroup$
    – Ligament
    Commented Aug 27, 2021 at 15:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Ligament " Do humans IRL" Yes "Apparently the Ancient Greeks" no, you don't need to go that far back some do now, simply pluck & gut, remove the head & feet then cook whole, you can eat them bones & all just crunch them down, well baked in a pie those small bones soften anyway, obviously you use more than one for a pie // [aside to self] jeez!! kids today, it's almost like nothing we did as little as 20 years ago ever even happened // the Chinese still do & I'm sure there are rural areas in Europe where they still do too. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Commented Aug 27, 2021 at 17:18
  • $\begingroup$ "four-and-twenty blackbirds baked in a pie" $\endgroup$
    – Ligament
    Commented Aug 27, 2021 at 17:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Ligament that'd be a pretty big pie, a blackbird isn't really much smaller than a squab. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Commented Aug 27, 2021 at 17:43
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Disagree with people saying the sky is a food desert. The sky is full of life.

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Some people have mentioned birds and pollen, but you're all forgetting about insects:

Now, it's too gross to just suck the bugs out of the air and eat them, but your sky-nomads can use them as feed or as bait. (Says you: "Oh but people can eat insects!" Says I: Not like that; you can eat roasted crickets or BSF larvae or something good, not whatever-stuck-to-my-flypaper.)

If using them as feed, catch the insects and them feed them to something insectivorous and convert them to meat. Possibly to iguanas or some insectivorous bird.

If using them as bait, dangle them below the airship to attract hawking insectivorous birds like swifts, then cannon-net the swifts when they come.

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