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In a world I am building, birds have become the dominant order instead of mammals. Among all of the birds, the New Caledonian Crow has become the dominant sapient species. In a previous question, I asked about weapons a bird would use while flying, now I wonder about their armor.

Is it possible for a set of medieval age armor to exist that would allow for a bird to still fly while wearing it? If so, what would it look like?

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

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  • $\begingroup$ In the linked question, you talk about tribal wars--armor is slightly beyond that. If you give us an era/tech-level, that might be helpful. I will modify my answer if you let me know in the comments that you've clarified. $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Sep 5 '16 at 18:48
  • $\begingroup$ @ErinThursby added appreciate information. $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Sep 5 '16 at 18:49
  • $\begingroup$ Added some stuff based on the tech level. I have to think about the modification bit a little more, to suss where they would be vs. where we were at that time. It's something they would work on all the time, so they would be far ahead of us in designing supplemental tech for flight. They will have an intuitive grasp of the principles of aerodynamics and have no doubt they will experiment with it more than we had by that time...I am thinking they might be at 1910/1920 levels as far as that's concerned. $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Sep 5 '16 at 19:15
  • $\begingroup$ I added something about them having flying machines/augments to their flight, which I believe may be necessary if the armor and other things (weaponry) get too heavy. These augments can also be part of a layer of armor and can help carry them, with a layer of personal armor under that. Hope this is helpful. $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Sep 6 '16 at 17:35
  • $\begingroup$ «the New Caledonian Crow has become the dominant sapient species» I think you might want to clarify whether you mean that like some species of Old World Monkey has “become” great apes, homonid, human in terms of decendants that are very different from the original. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Sep 6 '16 at 21:27
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Flight is very much dependent on lift and weight.

  • Modify the armor so that it helps with flight--extending wingspan, rockets, propellers, that kind of thing, just a little something extra. I think that this can compensate for the extra weight of the armor. (this all depends on the level of tech). Even though this is Medieval, since these folks think more in terms of flight than we do, they would be more advanced in thinking when it comes to this.
  • Use lightweight paper or cloth armor. Armor would have to be extremely lightweight but still able to protect. Here's a link to a great paper on paper armor. Mythbusters also covered it. Layers of silk, wool, certain weaves will be helpful. Silk is EXTREMELY effective as a final layer, so do research that, and its qualities. Metal is death. It's just too heavy.

Center of mass can be covered, underneath would likely be more important than back coverage, if you are specifically worried about ranged attacks. Your main problem is that wings will necessarily be vulnerable because it is their design which enables flight. To cover them with armor would hinder that.

Weight, when it comes to armor and weaponry is going to be very important. I would venture that invading armies might build temporary invasion towers, so that soldiers wouldn't have to take off from the ground with all that stuff. If you have armored troops, that would be what you would do, otherwise the space for take off would be pretty large and it would be difficult to deploy troops quickly. It creates another vulnerable point, certainly. But take-off towers would be helpful to armored birds.

EDIT: Thinking about this, I would say that nearly any principle of gliding/flight that we've discovered, these creatures likely know (the physics, not engines or anything). Further, I would say that they would develop gliders, for the same reason we developed carts with wheels. While we naturally walk on the earth, designing things to do it more efficiently, carrying more of a load is something that we developed as we needed it. Just because these creatures think in terms of flight and this is their ordinary method of egress, I would posit that they would look for ways to carry more in order to drop things on others in battle. They might well be on the level of Davinci's flying machine, if not further. Yes, they can fly, but having a machine which can offer better protection (as a kind of armor) might well be what they might do. In fact, I would venture that they would develop methods of flight far faster than they would something like a car, especially if flight is their major method of transportation. There might not even be roads because of this. For troops to move heavy things, they might have to go on foot, but they will constantly be looking for ways to move things through the air. If you attach a glider/flying apparatus to wings, using the wings as a control method, you can get away with more weight in the armor, with a way to bail out and glide down with your natural wings.

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Watching how a bird flys (I live with one in the house), I see that he has great control over the aerodynamic surfaces and reconfigues constantly, as part of flapping, steering, complex intair maneuvering, and choice of speed.

Any rigid covering would seriously spoil that.

Look at the tail alone: it can fan open or closed, and bend downward and move left to right and twist down-left or down-right.

Any covering would have serious problems.

Only thing I can think of is a per feather coating or re-enforcement! Recall the earlier posting on battle. Feathers can be fouled or disrupted very easily.

So what if, after a perfect grooming, he coated individual feathers with resin to prevent them from coming unzipped so easily or being cut or allowing blades to pass through them so easily? They could also apply thin foil of some kind at the same time.

That is, as an evolution of repairing cut and damaged feathers, they reenforce “armor” individual feathers or portions of the feather. This makes it harder to fold up when resting as it’s bulkier, but mostly doesn’t interfere with the full motion needed.

Also, you know how clipping wings huts flight? And they learn to repair flight feathers? Well, why not extend the flight feathers? They can adapt themselves to bear more weight or have razor edges or whatever.

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  • $\begingroup$ I really like the "per feather" approach for the wings. Covering not the full feather but the quill with a thin layer of resin will improve it's durability against cuts and deformation. $\endgroup$ – Andreas Heese Sep 14 '16 at 6:11
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I think a major drawback to birds wearing armor, is that they most likely will not be able to armor their wings. Wings need to be in contact with the air to work properly, so wing armor would need to be at once skintight and offer projection. Metal is out of the question, as are almost all man-made materials. Maybe a thin film of kevlar could work, but that's about it. Birds are more than 50% wing by area(and the larger the bird, the higher the percentage), and probably most vulnerable at the wing. So individual bird-armor seems unrealistic.

However, I don't think this entirely rules out armor, just individual bird armor. Several birds would be able to carry a large cloth capable of stopping most projectiles, providing tactical cover for other birds to shelter behind(the cloth can be extended upward with wire so it protects the birds carrying it). These cloths would be like mobile trenches, and battles might turn into encirclement contests between these mobile defenses. You could add slits to fire projectiles through.

You could get creative, either way I think this is how bird armor is going to evolve. Some birds will carry the armor, while others will perform combat function. Individual armor just doesn't seem to make much sense.

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