Imagine two races, both of human-level intelligence:

Hawklings are raptor-like (as in falcons, hawks, eagles, etc) flying humanoids who have six limbs: legs, arms, and wings. They live on high cliffs situated between open plains and the ocean. They hunt by soaring high in the air across hundreds of miles, "hovering", and swooping down at high speeds to snatch up their prey. They have raptor-like tails/tail feathers to aid in maneuverability. Flight is their primary form of locomotion; they can walk but prefer to fly over all but short distances. They can use their wings to glide starting at a few days old, and can fly within a few weeks.

Groundbirds are peafowl-like winged humanoids also with six limbs: legs, arms, and wings. They live primarily in dense forest or urban environments. They hunt by sneaking up on their prey from the ground, and pouncing. They have tails with bones along the length and relatively few feathers, which are used for balance and posturing. Walking is their primary form of locomotion; as adults they can fly several miles at a time, but mostly only use their wings to aid with jumping up/down, and for mating displays. They don't start using their wings in any real capacity until they're several years old.

If a Hawkling raised a Groundbird child, what kinds of aerial maneuvers would the Groundbird ultimately be capable of?

Humans are generally quite good at using intelligence to make up for relatively low physical prowess compared to the rest of the animal kingdom - we train, we explore unconventional techniques, we create tools/aids to give us capabilities we otherwise lack. So in other words, given that both of these races have human-level intelligence, how much could a Hawkling-raised Groundbird adapt their capabilities beyond species norm?

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    $\begingroup$ "Could the Groundbird learn how to soar high, hover, and/or stoop on a target?" Not with peacock wings they will not. (The wings of gallinaceous birds are short and blunt, usable only for short-distance flight. They cannot glide and definitely cannot soar. Or rather they can glide, but not all that much better than a brick.) If they can buy or build an aeroplane, then maybe. (And your hawling will have a lot of trouble controlling their flight without a tail. There is a reason why aircraft have tails.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jan 23, 2022 at 0:49
  • $\begingroup$ Hovering would be difficult in RL.. peafowl don't hunt mice.. but proper flight, certainly possible youtube.com/watch?v=trCrxCoWCAI you know.. the problem is animals in captivity.. peafowls just aren't expected to fly, so they don't get to practice, but they certainly can fly. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Jan 23, 2022 at 0:57
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP Why not expand on your comment and make that an answer? :) $\endgroup$
    – thatgirldm
    Jan 23, 2022 at 1:00
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    $\begingroup$ Because the question did not say anything about the anatomy of the characters, and the fact that the question assumes that the hawkling person can fly without a tail, and the details of the most un-bird-like tail of the peacock person, make me think that they are most likely very unlike real-world hawks and peacocks. So, just a comment. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jan 23, 2022 at 1:03
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP Oh hmm I might've misunderstood how hawk tails work IRL then - the idea is that the hawkling does have a feathered "tail" appropriate for raptor-like flight, but it's not like... a bony limb like a dog or cat's (which is what the groundbirds have). I've updated the question to reflect that. $\endgroup$
    – thatgirldm
    Jan 23, 2022 at 1:26

1 Answer 1



Just that, a solid nope. Normally I'd ask for some more information, but not only you said to just assume they can fly, you said it yourself that groundbirds are only capable of flying for relatively short distances and have a lifestyle that relies very little on flight. Much like ducklings raised by chickens alongside chicks don't suddenly become afraid of water, your groundbirds won't become magically capable of doing everything a hawkling can just because they were raised by one. Wings present in soaring predators like eagles and hawks are usually long, large, powerful and adapted to enable them to use wind currents to keep themselves in the air with minimal energy. A creature with small, broad wings, no matter how much encouragement it gets, can't get the same results without the same wings. It's like wanting a kori bustard, heaviest flying bird in the world, to take off with the same ease of a harpy eagle and make tight turns like a bat. It ain't happening unless we add in things like magic or anomalies that break the normal laws of the universe as we know it.

If you're having trouble with their anatomy, I recommend taking a look at larger raptors and juvenile T-Rexes, as they had longer tails, a ground-centered lifestyle and were adapted to function as nimble predators. Birds that rely very little on flight, such as roadrunners, might also be worth a look.

Edit: while your groundbirds might have human-level intelligence, that doesn't change much here. Humans have used their intellect and the knowledge we've accumulated over the years to build things that go beyond what common biology is capable of. The largest plane far outweights and oitsizes the largest flying animals to ever live. However, one thing remains the same: our technology has only gone so far in increasing our own limits. We might be able to live longer and know more efficient ways to train our body for certain purposes, but despite all of our knowledge and intellect, we'll still get absolutely bodied in a fight against an angry chimpanzee, and a human raised by a chimpanzee could never hope to get close to it in terms of climbing ability, sheer strength or speed.

In other words, unless they have some crazy advanced science in the fields of bioengineering, your groundbirds' intellect can only do so much to expand their natural capabilities. Meaning that, even when accounting for their intelligence, they'll still only be able to fly for relatively short distances, with little to no hope of soaring high.

What you could see is a groundbird raising a hawkling and teaching it how to move around on the ground and how to hunt properly. They won't be as good as a groundbird due to the fact that such teachings are specific to the groundbird based on their own anatomy, but the hawkling will have the knowledge, being able to try out ways to make use of it based on their own physical abilities and limits, because in here we're not talking about a physical ability that's clearly exclusive to the members of a certain species, but rather about knowledge that can be made useful by any species with enough intelligence to process it.

Basically, can intelligence alone without the use of genetic modification allow your groundbird to overcome natural barriers and soar through the skies along with their hawkling parent? No, just like no human today can even hope to swim with the same skill, speed or agility of a sea-lion or seal even with the best diving skills in the world and while using the greatest scuba gear in the market. Can they potentially learn something useful from what the hawklings know and adapt said knowledge so they can use it based on their own physical limitations? Pretty likely.

  • $\begingroup$ Apparently I am really bad at conveying the tails thing. I didn't mean a flexible simian-like tail, but rather more like what you're describing - a stiff limb with bones in used as a counterweight. I only described them the way I did because I was trying to distinguish between the feathery spread of the hawkling's tail and the relative stiffness/lack of feathers on the groundbird's. I've edited my question accordingly. $\endgroup$
    – thatgirldm
    Jan 23, 2022 at 6:10
  • $\begingroup$ @thatgirldm in that case length might be the best way to describe. Birds as of today have reduced tails with feathers that may make it look longer (roadrunners for example even use long tail feathers to aid them in turning quickly). Theropods on the other hand had long tails used predominantly as a counterbalance or counterweight, given their natural posture. They weren't exactly suitable as limbs in most cases, but rather as a simple way to balance out their hunched posture and, in some, as anchoring points to leg muscles. $\endgroup$ Jan 24, 2022 at 3:13
  • $\begingroup$ @thatgirldm as a result of this, note that the more upright your groundbird's. Normal posture is, the less it'll need a tail for counterbalancing their front weight. If they walk as upright as a human, you should expect smaller and lighter tails with the bulk of the muscles and heavier portions closer to the body so the tail doesn't become a hindrance to balance. It's also possible the tail is still useful in case they prefer to walk more upright, but hunch down severely while pursuing prey, once again justifying the need for a tail that acts as a proper counterbalance. $\endgroup$ Jan 24, 2022 at 3:17
  • $\begingroup$ I'll be honest, I was really not expecting this much focus on the tails - I almost didn't mention them at all lin my original draft, and I wish now that I hadn't, because I feel like my original unclear wording caused a lot of distraction from the actual point of my question. Still, it's useful to know even if the tail situation wasn't what I was trying to find out, so thank you! $\endgroup$
    – thatgirldm
    Jan 24, 2022 at 5:51
  • $\begingroup$ @thatgirldm it's not that the tail was a distraction, it simply struck me as a little odd at first, since they seemed like a more intelligent version of an utahraptor or Dakotaraptor, and as I'd covered the main point of the question, I saw no issue in talking about it. I added an edit to my answer covering the added perspective you wanted, given they're intelligent, but I still think them being smart won't change their flight proficiencies, or at least not to the point you might want. $\endgroup$ Jan 24, 2022 at 11:51

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