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On the planet of the Aves, birds have evolved to dominate the Earth instead of mammals. Of the thousands of species in this world, both on the ground and in the water, the only one to develop sapience are a species of crow-like flying birds.

As I design this species, I have wondered what kinds of weaponry a crow would be able to use. With a species physically similar to crows, what weapons would they develop for use during the stone-age phase of their existence? These would be used both for hunting and for skirmishing with other tribes so fights involving more than 20 or 30 would be highly unusual.

The Un-human physiology of crows provides a number of constraints in the ways weapons can be used and designed, but does it also allow other new options?

A list of all Planet of the Aves questions can be found here


Keep two things in mind here,

  1. They need to be able to both build and use these weapons.
  2. They are for all intents and purposes related to this question, crows.
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  • $\begingroup$ Do they have manipulating appendages? Hands instead of claws, or fingers on the front of the wings, or a prehensile tongue? $\endgroup$ – John Feltz Aug 27 '16 at 0:40
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnFeltz for all intents that matter, they are crows $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Aug 27 '16 at 0:42
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Crows (and other corvids) do a lot of their fighting in the air, so I'll assume your Stone Age Crows do too.

Here's a David Attenborough video of fieldfares defending their nests from a raven. Towards the end of the clip, they do aerial poo bombardment, to splatter the raven's feathers with bird shit. Apart from being gross, the feathers will get gunged up which will affect their function. Short term, it will mess with your aerodynamics a bit. Long term, Sir David says it can cause the feathers to get waterlogged, which can be fatal (mucks with the bird's ability to stay warm, makes it heavier so less energy efficient to get airborne).

So your smart crows will make 'artificial poo' to bombard their enemies with. Anything sticky which will mess with the feathers and be difficult to clean off will do. Perhaps a blob of plant latex (sap) or pine resin on a leaf (held carefully so the carrier doesn't get gummed up). If there are tar pits in their territory they are on to a winner. If they invent fire, they can start boiling up animal hooves and the like to make glue.

A crow battle will be like a bunch of kids having a water bomb fight. Once they invent catapults, slingshots or 'cannons' it'll be like a paintball fight.

As well as glue-bombs, they can target the flight feathers with edged weapons - say a sharp flake of stone or shark tooth held in a talon. If you can slice or sever enough flight feathers, the wing ceases to function and the bird not so much flies as plummets - you have grounded your opponent. Effectively you have clipped its wings.

Clipped feathers don't grow back. The victim will have to either:

  1. Pull out its own clipped feathers to stimulate new ones to grow. Ouch, painful! And the indignity of being flightless like a chick again!
  2. Wait until the clipped feather moults naturally. This could take up to a year.

Making sharp flakes of stone: If you don't want the crows to be dexterous enough to do flint knapping, then they can do the less subtle technique of grabbing a suitable stone and dropping it from height to smash on the ground. The shards will be rather random in shape and size, but usable. Crows and gulls smash open molluscs this way. In fact, sharp shards of mollusc shell would be just as useful as fragments of stone.

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  • $\begingroup$ They might develop feather extensions. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Aug 27 '16 at 10:04
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz - ooh yeah good idea. Get you wings clipped in one battle, then glue on a discarded feather to the cut end to get you back into the fight for the next battle. $\endgroup$ – DrBob Aug 27 '16 at 10:07
  • $\begingroup$ Very interesting, I hadn't thought of mucking up the feathers +1 $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Aug 27 '16 at 10:40
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    $\begingroup$ It would actually be difficult to cut a feather, as it will simply move away from the pressure of the blade. Disrupting them is easy though; the barbs get unzipped and mussed just from accedently brushing against an object while flying. A tangle of burrs could do that quite well and even cause damage where barbs are creased or damaged and won’t zip back together. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Aug 27 '16 at 10:44
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz - I've got a book called 'Archaeology of Archery' by Alf Webb, which describes the use of tranchet arrowheads (chisel-shaped, wider at tip than base) for taking down birds. If a normal arrow misses the body, it goes thru the wings without damaging them. Tranchets cut the quills and grounds the bird. Pic of tranchets: prehistorics-uk.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/… $\endgroup$ – DrBob Aug 27 '16 at 11:10
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See also this answer of mine where I make the case It’s not the hand, but the brain.

If the brain has the circuitry to expand the body image on the fly, then any way of grasping or crudly controlling another object will be used to some effect. The evolution of grasping limbs and better dexterity in wielding will follow.

The New Calidonian crow has physical adaptations for tool use: the beak is straight so it can pick up something and hold it forward in front; the eyes can focus on the point just past the beak so the crow can easily see what he's doing. But before all that comes the mental wiring to be able to use an extension of his own body in such a manner.

My own pet, a Bronze Winged Pionus, surprised me a couple weeks ago when I saw him employing tool use for the first time. He has a hooked beak which would not be at all good in the manner of the crow’s. But he also has zygodactyl lower limbs which make excellent hands, and a range of motion that's impressive, although he has to perch on one leg to use the other as an arm.

When losing a feather, it appears instinctive that he chew it before discarding it. Some recycling I suppose. In this case, after chewing it quite thoroughly I saw him manipulating the remaining quill: holding it with the tips of the talons, the middle part of the foot/hand becomes another useful joint. He could move it to either side of his body with some surprising reach, and rotate the quill more than 180° to point in either direction regardless of which side of his body he was holding it near.

Then he proceeded to use the tip of the quill to scratch himself. Now if he was scratching himself whith his claws in the usual way, but trying not to let go of his quill at the same time, the quill would be sideways flat against his body. Instead he carefully worked the tip against the side of his head, which means holding his foot/hand at a right angle to the use of the claw; and moving it around to control the tip which is now another joint away from his actual limb.

Being able to do that at all requires the brain have the tool-feel ability.

So birds have multiple ways of grasping and controling other objects. Any slight ability in that regard will be improved by natural selection once the brain has the ability to use tools.

As for what they would do with their stone age, I think that’s defined by the natural resources. Smart tool users will find a way to hold something to further the need of manipulating natural resources. The stone age is so named because stones survive to be found; but it was also the wood age and the leather age and the leaf age etc.

The things in the natural world that are available and what physical properties they have for exploting by fairly direct modification of the original items is what will define the stone age. The species’ unique phisiology will affect the handle end of things, not the business end. They’ll make what tools can be made, regardless of what their grasping anatomy is like.

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a net.
Sound strange enough, since you can't kill anyone with a net. But for an avian race, getting tangled up and fall from the sky would be pretty much lethal.

However, it's not the main point. Because it's stone-age, your crow won't fight in open battle, but raiding -just like the native American warfare. And that's where a net come in handy.

  1. the weapon
    Net is not a damage-dealer like normal weapon; instead, it's a support weapon that immobilize the enemy and give you significant advantage. On an airborne target, it will cause the enemy to fall to their death, or at least take a lot of time to get out -enough time for you to damage him with talon and beak. On a ground target (which is most likely for a raiding scenario), it will keep him on the ground, vulnerable from any attack from above.

  2. the making
    net-weaving for bird seem impossible, but teamwork is the key. (Think of the bird's beak like your thumb and index finger.)
    the material: net is made from rope, and rope is made from fiber.
    2 bird can tear fiber from palm leave (like how you tear apart a piece of paper).
    3 bird can make a rope from 2 fiber (more fiber, more bird). 1 will keep the rope's end in his beak, while the other 2 will hold a fiber each. These 2 will criss cross each other (like how you twist the fiber to make rope).
    and finally, 2 bird can knot these ropes into a net.

  3. the tactic
    the net should be heavy enough to immobilize the enemy, so it's better to have 2 bird carry 1 net (moreover, the net is also spread out, make it easier to caught something inside). After casting net, the pair will attack the trapped enemy with their talon and beak; you can even have some bird carry a rock to make short work of it. After take out a good number with this method, the band with mob up any survivor with their superior number.

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It doesn't.

Weapons are tools; tools that require lots of other tools to make them. Whether a crow can use a sword or a gun is immaterial: a crow that doesn't have any manipulating appendage better than claws can't build a forge or a grindstone or a drill press.

The only options I see are:

  • find rocks and drop them on your enemies
  • pick up ground-bound enemies and drop them on the ground
  • find a naturally-occurring poison and somehow get it on your enemies without contaminating yourself
  • claw and beak
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  • $\begingroup$ This video proves your point wrong youtube.com/watch?v=DDmCxUncIyc $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Aug 27 '16 at 0:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Uncle Tres They're using a found tool to get another found tool. They're not making a tool. $\endgroup$ – John Feltz Aug 27 '16 at 1:01
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    $\begingroup$ Google crow making tools, first two results. They can make tools; onekind.org/education/animal_sentience/tool_use/… youtube.com/watch?v=TtmLVP0HvDg $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Aug 27 '16 at 1:10
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    $\begingroup$ New Caledonian crows can make tools. There are suggestions this trait has arisen due to factors in the New Caledonian environment. So far it's not known if this tool making generalizes to other species of corvids. Perhaps things are different on your Planet of the Dominant Murders of Crows. $\endgroup$ – a4android Aug 27 '16 at 4:33

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