Imagine you had a race of "fantasy bird folk":

  • Humanoid head, torso and limbs down to the ankles/fingertips
  • wings from the back (implausible for flight, but irrelevant here)
  • bird-like (raptorial, particularly) feet, including talons
  • claws akin to raptor talons (proportionately scaled) on otherwise standard fingers (5 per hand, including opposable thumbs).
  • Slightly small body size (standing 3'6" or so on average)
  • Carnivorous (with sharp teeth) but able to tolerate small amounts of vegetable matter (kinda like dogs).

These claws (on hands and feet) are not retractable.

How much would such claws (especially on the hands) affect (inhibit?) tool use and development, if any? My baseline guess is that anything involving textiles or fine manipulation would be more difficult, just as it's hard to do fine work with really long fingernails. I wouldn't guess it would be impossible, just more difficult.

While there is magic in the setting, the only magic involved here is in letting them fly despite that being anatomically implausible under normal conditions. Oh, and their initial origin as a species many thousands of years ago. As far as the question is concerned, there is no active magic.

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    $\begingroup$ There's a better-than-average chance that yours is a duplicate of one of the two following questions. Could you review them and determine if they answer your question? If not, please edit your question and explain why. Thanks! Are talons and beak good enough for advanced manipulation? and Physically, how do dragons grasp and transport the contents of their hoards? $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 1:57
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH Just reviewed all three questions. It seems (to me, at least) that the former of those two asks if talons and beaks are capable of advanced manipulation at all, while the latter of those two asks how a creature would transport a large quantity of wealth (claws and size as an added difficulty). I think this one is distinct in that it looks for an answer to the question "do these specific parameters of a clawed species inhibit complex tool use?" vs. "does having talons and a beak mean that they can use tools just as well as us humans can?". $\endgroup$ Commented May 21 at 0:14
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    $\begingroup$ @controlgroup Keeping in mind that no one (including me) voted to close the question... my goal was to help a new user to realize that a lot of questions have been asked on this site and it's not that uncommon that an answer can be found. But, for the record, "capable of advanced manipulation at all" is a superset of "claws inhibit complex tool use." A question isn't unique just because it's more specific than the more general question unless those conditions really make a difference. Complex tools vs. advanced manipulation don't do that in my book. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented May 21 at 0:55

1 Answer 1


Our tools are specifically designed for our hands, to take advantage of the hand design (and arm, elbow and shoulder design) of our tree-brachiating ancestors.

Avian tools would be designed for their biological design. How they grip them. Possibly to take maximum advantage of their relatively enormous pectoral muscles.

How do they use them.

Are they going to use a human hammer? No. Their talons are designed to pierce and hold onto prey possibly weighing a significant portion of their own body weight (like our arms and legs). They would likely develop a large grip with holes their talons could fit into, providing an excellent firm grip.

As for fine work, they will invent tools to do it with. Have you ever tried to sew without a needle, just using your fingers? It is impossible. We invented needles, rubbing bone fragments on rocks to wear them into shape. We chipped away at very hard rocks to make sharp points, and scraped and drilled a hole in the needle end, large enough to fit a thread through with our fingers, so the needle could poke a very fine hole in a hide, and drag a thread through it. But all of those tools were designed by our monkey brachiating hands.

Hopefully, as a writer, you enjoy using your imagination. You need to figure out what avian tools would look like, how birds as intelligent as humans would solve problems requiring hammering, sawing, drilling, and lifting, how to take advantage of levers. Actual tool-making birds use their beaks to hold things, some (like parrots) have great jaw strength and can cut with their beak. Others have sharp pointy beaks, and can peck and poke very finely, their beak-eye coordination is very accurate, they can peck and hit almost invisible tiny grains, like grass seed. I would think they would take advantage of that somehow.

I'd say you have some fun imagination work to do.

To answer your question

Realistically, raptor-like talons on bird "hands" would be an advantage in tool use; they are strong, not fragile, and could provide excellent grip. Stronger than human thumb. And they have no pain sensors on the surface, like fingernails in that respect. I'd imagine birds would have some tools designed only for talon use, if the tool took some heat in a fire for example, and would be too hot to hold against flesh.


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