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 flying birds whose ancestors are the New Caledonian Crow.

As I design this species, I have wondered what I could expect their homes to look like, post sapience. After all humans went from basic grass nests to the universal walls and roof as its been coined (By me, just now) So obviously it stands to reason that Crows nests would also become more intricate.

What could I expect a sapient crows post sapience den to look like? What accommodations would a house made by birds for birds have to take into account? Could the Sapient Crow even get past the nest. The Un-human physiology of crows provides a number of constraints in the ways a house can be built and lived in, but does it also allow other new options?

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

  • $\begingroup$ I think about parrot furnature: do you have pet birds? You really can’t get how alien they are without living with them. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Sep 14, 2016 at 11:16
  • $\begingroup$ Do they look like birds or are they humanoid with wings? $\endgroup$
    – Skye
    Sep 14, 2016 at 12:28
  • $\begingroup$ Obligatory xkcd-link. "[...] no avian society ever develops space travel because it's impossible to focus on calculus when you could be outside flying." - Same goes for building anything but the bare necessities, doesn't it?! ;) $\endgroup$ Sep 14, 2016 at 14:08
  • $\begingroup$ How I wish this was a colony of parrots living in the fiords of Norway... $\endgroup$
    – user10945
    Sep 14, 2016 at 14:41
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ > Planet of the Aves Looks lika a planetary murder. $\endgroup$ Sep 14, 2016 at 17:07

6 Answers 6


I simply love this question. Also, i'm quite hyped for the planet of the aves thing, amazing idea.

Enough fanboying, back to the question.

I think before we can think about how the individual nests would look like, we have to wrap our heads around everyhting else... especially the questions: where is our nest, and what is around it?

Why do creatures build homes

You build a home primarily to protect yourself from the elements. Winds that chill you, rain that wets and chills you, snow and ice, searing sun and freezing winter winds. All of them can be endured or even enjoyed much better when you are inside. So, naturally, your home needs some kind of roof. It keeps away the rain and sun. Snow doesnt get into your sleeping areas. Walls do keep the wind out, and allow for something else: controlling the temperature.

The second reason why you build a home is security. Your home is hidden well or locked, so other predators can't get in to eat you while you sleep. If you do not have locks, you build your home in a way so it can be easily guarded by very few individuals, protecting a whole family or clan from predators. Less guards mean more people to go hunt or work the next morning.

And the last big reason is defensibility (is that even a word?). You can defend your home better against hostile persons. Or at least your settlement. If your species builds settlements...

Minor other reasons for building a home are about comfort and advanced problems of civilization. You have a place to store stuff, which is then safe and secure (protected by locks, guards, neighbours, family etc...). Without a home you can only own what you can carry, or hide your stuff and hope it's not found. Big tools can only be build if you have a home to build it in (anvils, forges etc...). And some tools things can only be build if you live in a community. also called a settlement.

A good home also allows you to settle in areas where you'd normally not be able to live (usually because you die from heat during the day or freeze during night).

So all in all, we have some requirements that a home needs, and some advances it allows. If your civilisation has mastered home-building a while ago, it will also have started to benefit from the "advances". These advances change how you build your homes, though, so let's imagine....

What the crows do in their homes

I imagine that of course, their homes shelter them from the elements somehow. That also means that the way they build will differ from climate to climate. I will focus on a mild european-like climate here.

So the crows will live in their homes, i imagine in some kind of settlement where a whole murder lives. They use their settlements to live, breed, store food, treat wounded (especially warriors that have had their feathers clipped, glued or otherwise lost them in combat, since they cannot fly at the moment and are super vulnerable. Maybe they have guard duty?) and.. make tools. So some larger workshops or something will be around. A nursery, a place to store and look for eggs, some kind of hospital. Storage areas are a given. And then there is going to be personal "nests".

Another problem will be the water supply. You can't dig a well in a tree. And you can't carry up all the water all the way. So how to solve this? Where to create your settlement in the first place? Let's look at...

Where to settle the crows

So before we think of how our settlement looks, let's think about where to build it. We need water, food, shelter, space and an optimum security. Problem: water can only be found on the ground. But on the ground is also where the crows are weakest, where strong predators can reach them, while they are asleep. Where their eggs are vulnerable.

I think protecting your offspring is the strongest urge. So they shall not build on the ground, but in the trees, on cliffsides or on high rocks. Maybe... maybe our prototypical, perfect setting would be on a huge tree near a very small waterfall. Far enough to avoid being sprayed and wet all the time, but let's say 20-30 meters away, so it is possible to build some kind of water ramp to our settlement? maybe other settlements don't have this luxury, they have to gather rain water, or carry the water back to their settlement, but let's assume our newfouned village has a waterfall nearby. And it's located on a huuuge tree. So predators can't get there.

Now, finally, we can imagine how the settlement might look like...

How our settlement might look like

I imagine a flying species to require a LOT of space in their settlement. A crow is relatively small. But expanding their wings takes a lot of space. Flying inside the settlement also does. So either you loosely flock a lot of small nests (like bird nests) together in one tree, and lose defensive advantages and easier guardability (is THAT a word?), or you build freakin huge habitats. But i think that is what the crows will go for. They take one big branch as a basic (taking into consideration the health of the tree, and therefore guarding and caring for the tree, too!), and construct a wooden platform on it. Maybe it's just loose branches and grass webbed together, but they make a giant nest in a way that it's hard to access it from below. Making if more difficult for predators to climb in. maybe the edges are littered with sharp sticks.

Then, the crows construct a dome. made of the big, big leaves of the tree. They bend in branches, and tie or sew the leaves togehter, so their giant nest is protected by a dome. It might not be 100% water proof, and i think there will be a gap between the nest and the dome, but it helps. It will give shadow, protect against light rain and wind, hide the settlement from aerial predators and limits the accessability of the settlement (easier guarding). I imagine the individual nests to be hanging below the dome, so the "ground" is free.

The settlement might have a central hatchery, where all the eggs are kept safe, and that is most difficult to get to (the heart of the settlement). This might even be built from hardened clay (since it rests on the branch, and is not hanging freely), to provide a nice, even temperature inside, and protect from parasites and small ovivores. Also, the settlement will have some water storage or (in our case) a long channel made of bamboo or bone, that delivers a constant stream of fresh water. If you had a water storage, the central dome might be build in a way that leads fresh rain water right and dew into the water storage.

Food must be stored too, and again i am thinking of small clay pots hidden around the hatchery, that keep a constant temperature inside and are used to preserve food. Maybe our settlement keeps some clay pots at the bottom of the waterfall, which uses the cool water to preserve food during summer.

And finally...

How the individual homes might look like

Usually, a birds nest is barely big enough for 1-2 birds to sit in. this does not fulfil the requirements of a civilized avian. You need better shelter, storage space etc. A birds nest can easly manage to fulfil shelter and security. Make it a spherical nest with leather roof. There you go. Waterproof. Windproof. Warm. Only one entrance. Up in the tree. But how do you keep personal belongings there? How to express individuality, arts, where to think about inventions?

I think crows might be more murder-oriented than us humans. So maybe they are really just using their individual nests for basic needs, but find fulfillment in the murder? So, i think the nests will be considerably bigger than our real-world ones. Maybe... they really hang them from branches. Since they can hunt, they can work with leather. And strings. And birds ARE good at weaving. (look at their real life nests). So i imagine a crows nest to be a small platform of woven sticks and branches, maybe even worked wood, that was hung up in the trees with strings or sinews. The "walls" are made of woven sticks, covered with a layer of leather. Personal belongings can be hung from the ceiling, and maybe some nests are big enough to contain two or more "levels". Nests might also be hung up next to each other and have connections to each other, especially good if you fall in love and you just "move" your lovers home next to yours and connect them.

Additional storage space might be made by hanging stuff under your nest. Maybe the less valuable stuff, so your neighmours don't get envious.

Activities that require a lot of space like sparring, training, arts, crafting etc.. will be conducted on the basic platform, where the murder also stores the common tools.

At least that would be my vision of this :)


Growing the structure of a house out of a live tree is an awesome idea.

But prepare yourself for meat houses...


Alternatively birds already have several very interesting types of structures that they have developed without high intelligence.


See the article for full explanation

#1 Grass colony

Grass colony

#5 Made from saliva

Made from saliva

#6 Adobe


#7 Hammock-like


The most interesting of which is the one made of the bird's own saliva, which humans collect and eat, as a delicacy.


With respect to the saliva nest, from the comments below this answer:

Some really nice options here, and the Ewoks reference I think is particularly inspired. A natural progression of nests in trees! – Shaun K

Indeed, however, the saliva nest bugged me from the moment I recalled having seen it elsewhere and decided to include it here. One can easily see this as a non-sentient, pre-industrial form of 3D printing - from the bird's own mouth. How satisfying it would be to bring an ancient craft/ritual such as this into a modernized Avian culture where the very principle, physics and chemistry were founded on tradition itself. It would perhaps be one of the guilds to Aves evocative of ancestral memory as are cooking with fire, blacksmithing, weaving, pottery, etcetera to humans. – Nolo

Obviously, however, those structures need a boost into more modern technology and design. The Ewok village is an interesting example which merges high technology with pre-industrial structures, in a post-modern, presumably sustainable ethos. Compare #1 at the above link to the Ewok village.

enter image description here

Colonies of mud thatch structures like #6 could similarly be juxtaposed with cliff villages like the Mesa Verde cliff dwelling for example.

enter image description here

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Some really nice options here, and the Ewoks reference I think is particularly inspired. A natural progression of nests in trees! $\endgroup$
    – Shaun K
    Sep 14, 2016 at 10:43
  • $\begingroup$ @ShaunK Indeed, however, the saliva nest bugged me from the moment I recalled having seen it elsewhere and decided to include it here. One can easily see this as a non-sentient, pre-industrial form of 3D printing - from the bird's own mouth. How satisfying it would be to bring an ancient craft/ritual such as this into a modernized Avian culture where the very principle, physics and chemistry were founded on tradition itself. It would perhaps be one of the guilds to Aves evocative of ancestral memory as are cooking with fire, blacksmithing, weaving, pottery, etcetera to humans. $\endgroup$
    – Nolo
    Sep 15, 2016 at 4:16
  • $\begingroup$ I see what you mean. As with us, not all cultures practised blacksmithing and some were way more advanced for example. So this kind of nest building and/or pottery could quite easily be an intricate part of their culture. Their future archaeologists discovering ancient versions (like our iron age tools) and more recent and highly sophisticated versions (like Japanese katana's). Very cool... $\endgroup$
    – Shaun K
    Sep 15, 2016 at 14:59

Nolo's image of cliff structures is nice way to go. A good example are the Xindi Avian race from Star Trek Enterprise.

enter image description here

You'll notice the wide open windows between columns and the open entrance (where the shuttle is entering). Cliffs like this offer good protection, are weather resistant, and provide good take-off and landing platforms. Looking at the other questions for your planet of the Aves this fits in nicely with the weapon and armour designs you were maybe envisioning. It would be easy to launch gliders off of platforms like this.

Designs offering such open plans and a good view of the sky kind of make sense to me when considering what birds might like. The cliffs make sense when considering how the habit evolution may have expanded from living in overhangs on cliff faces. Humans have evolved housing that closely resembles the caves of our early years. So I'm thinking in terms of cave-birds, if that makes sense.

I imagine Star Trek creators modelled this design on birds that tend to form larger flocks (I don't believe New Caledonian Crow's do this but I could be wrong) but I can't see why your species of crow wouldn't.

You can read more about the Xindi Avians here.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thanks for the kudos, but that was Nolo's extremely good answer, not my own mediocre one... $\endgroup$
    – user10945
    Sep 14, 2016 at 10:51

Fun question...!

I'd like to think that sapient crows would develop some pretty advanced topiary skills. So, you could end up with a tree with a large flat area sprinkled around with raised perches for resting or hopping from one side to the other.

You'd have a domed roof to keep out the elements, and perhaps a curving entrance way (wide enough to fly down, but curved enough to baffle incoming wind/rain). The roof could be covered in the tree's foliage, or larger leaves could be harvested and placed on top as part of on-going maintenance.

For the young ones to be brought up, you'd need a separate room or maybe even a totally separate nesting complex.

In the living quarters, you'd need nice cosy roosting pods, somewhere to stockpile food, and an altar for collected trinkets.

I did think that you could have a normal "spherical" shaped tree, but with various platforms and such within the main canopy, but this seems fairly simplistic. Crows are pretty intelligent creatures, so let them build, I say...


Shelters do 3 things. They protect from the elements, from dangerous animals, and from other intelligent beings.

Settlements need a way to get resources for each person in (water and food). Nomad settlements (herding or hunting) would follow their food around (or guide it), and stop at places that provide resources for both their food and for themselves (that they don't get from their food).

Early human sedentary settlements where at or near fishing grounds. These permitted more capital investment in the settlement. You'd take your boats out to fish for resources, and bring the harvest back to the settlement. As you are an outside context problem for your prey, you could generate huge amounts of resources in a short travel distance and bring them back.

The capital investments this made possible include sturdier shelter, food storage technology like fired clay jars, fortified food processing locations for dried fish, and static defensive walls. Specialization becomes possible, with some people fishing and others producing goods for the fishers (cloth, boats, non-fish food, security, food processing, etc).

Farming of grains permitted this kind of high density settlement away from fishing grounds. Grains can be stored longer, and central storage led to central control. Cities with extreme amounts of specialists (ranging from tax men to weavers) result.

Humans move slowly, and it takes lots of energy to move. So settlements have to be located near clean, fresh water, food must be preserved and delivered.

Birds can, as far as I can tell, move longer distances with less energy, assuming proper wind currents. So a bird settlement is going to want to engineer favorable winds for ease of transport.

How those birds manage the effort:energy ratio of food is going to be key to the location and shape of their settlement, as is how they manage water.

At early iteration, survial against nature is important. In poor weather or bad seasons, having access to water is needed for long-term survival of a settlement. Protecting water access from preditation is important. Reducing the work required to get said water is key.

Carrying food to the storage location has to be low energy. Getting to the food source has to be easy. Birds are not good at carrying heavy things; they are light for a reason. So a low-tech civilization without efficient heavy-load beasts of burden is going to be hard.

Climbing without wings should be tricky for birds, more so than humans. But a concentric wall (no doors) with shelters inside could be viable.

Hostile animals should quickly no longer matter to a civilized race. They'll either wipe out or otherwise deal with dangerous animals near their settlements.

Weather and climate remains dangerous, as do other members of their civilized race. Use of hostile animals as weapons of war remains a concern (like humans used horses as weapons of war), but ground-based defences may matter less to such a race.

A tree or cliff-based civilization runs into the problem that getting building materials up is very hard. But once you have done it, the high launch spot is useful. Getting water remains hard: capturing godwater won't reasonably be enough over the area of a settlement. A waterfall off a cliff (either preexisting or engineered) could be used, if vulnerable to hostile action, but that doesn't help the tree dwellers.

Poop falls down, so being directly above your water source isn't safe. Being further from the water is worse than being near it. Being on top of it suddenly makes things horrible.

Trees, while useful, also get in the way. They don't permit ground-based cargo transport, and as noted above you'll need to use beasts of burden on the ground to move around the mass of materials a larger city needs to function.

Replacing trees with stacked houses might be inevidible. Building up is hard; both engineering wise and because it takes energy to lift materials up. On the other hand, the lack of requiement for non-service stairs, and the lower energy budget to go up and down, might make vertical housing more popular. Poop flows down, so lower households will be the worst ones, with the poor living on the ground floor. Some would live on the ground floor, simply because there is space there, and people expand everywhere.

Being above the poor poses a security risk, as it implies some kinds of mingling. In addition, fire and rot risks your building. So I'd expect these towers to have a social gradient, but not a ridiculous one. The richer birds would have their servants at or near the ground floor, or even their service animals down there with the servants living above it.

The box-shaped home we build has nothing to do with how we lived prior to intelligence, and is all to do with the packing problem and simplicity of engineering.

So I'd imagine highly vertically stacked homes with artificial thermals arranged nearby. Each household would have a social gradient within it, with the poorest living at the bottom. Roads would matter less; thermal generators would be as important or more so; roads would merely exist for beasts of burden, ground-based animals that pull cargo around.


How I imagine intelegent bird houses is long poles in the sky with nests on them (like you see bird nests on streetlights) Maybe even some seagull species that lives in/on floating nests in the ocean! They might have some problems building advanced buildings since they do not have thumbs though...


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