I know that birds like crows and parrots can use basic tools, and some questions on the site have stated that re-evolving hands isn't worth the trouble/is outright impossible.

However crows don't build firearms and the questions were asking for simple tools.

My avian race are human sized chickens, their hands are bat-like in structure though the fingers are shorter (they are flightless so i believe there is no need for long fingers to hold the wings correct me if i'm wrong) and hidden by the feathers if those aren't cut, the fingers can be used but it's not very efficient unless the feathers are cut short.

They have access to beak,hand and talon manipulation as is, all the basic furniture and tools of avian manufacture can be used with the talons. But can activities that require great dexterity, that need you to be stable (if you hold something in your foot then there's only one leg holding you) or things like smithing where you don't want to manipulate the materials with your mouth be achieved with talons and beak only ?

This is a question about the mechanics but I'm mostly asking because I plan for the wings to play a cultural component of my world : for example only the nobility/merchants don't cut their hand feathers because they don't need to work but also to differentiate themselves from the commoners as a sign of wealth. The craftsmen cutting their feathers in order to wear protection gloves being seen as a sacrifice to provide their fellow avians with valuable tools.

First question though so if there is any problem with the formulation, that the question isn't clear or anything please tell me so I can improve it and my future questions.

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    $\begingroup$ Birds and bats have very different skeletal structures and mechanisms of flight. You're welcome to handwave over this fact but birds don't have anything really resembling digits on their arms. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 14:46
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    $\begingroup$ I described the hands of my sentient chickens as bat-like because birds don't have actual fingers and that bat hands looked like what I had in mind. We can handwave the issue of birds evolving bat hands with feathers for this question and adress it in a creature-design question along others characteristic. About the flight mecanisms we can ignore them as those giant chickens are flightless. $\endgroup$
    – Armind
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 15:14
  • $\begingroup$ You want to make your race flightless? $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 17:22
  • $\begingroup$ yes, mostly because otherwise I believe the hands would be problematic for their mobility but also because of the dreaded square cube law the biggest birds are flightless : ostrich, emu or moa all flightless and really big $\endgroup$
    – Armind
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 17:42
  • $\begingroup$ You say they have fingers that are efficient once hand feathers are removed, and craftsmen even wear gloves because they use their hands so much, so I'm unclear as to what the question is here. Are you asking how aristocrats (who do not use their hands) can perform complicated tasks (equivalent to that of craftsmen, such as smithing)? $\endgroup$
    – rek
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 20:53

3 Answers 3


Hmm ... being smart birds, I think these guys could work around the problems with a combination of teamwork and equipment. Let's look at smithing. The standard image of low-tech smithing is a guy beating iron over an anvil with a hammer, yes? I'd suggest two things:

  • Your bird guys (assuming they can fly) must have awe-inspiring chest and back musculature. Perhaps they tie the hammer to their arm and happily beat away; a partner with tongs angles the target iron so all the smith has to do is supply the up-down motion of the hammer.

  • These guys are going to invent the drop-hammer tout de suite.

To the more general question, I suggest these guys will rethink a lot of our assumptions as to how fine or strenuous work is done. Weaver birds do incredible things with just talon and beak, using their partially built structure to lean against. For delicate work, these bird fellows might work in pairs, taking turns being the holder and the manipulator.

Heck, they might invent a rig where they can hang from their armpits, leaving both feet available to work with. Or lie on their backs.

Admittedly, there is a lot of awkward workaround going on here. Maybe you could work with that ... it's expensive to get things made. So people have few possessions. Everything is handcrafted and exquisite, but a middle class family might only own a steamer-trunk full of artifacts. They get by on their own agility and grace, and their passtimes are more oral or acrobatic.

  • $\begingroup$ they can't fly (they're too big and I designed them flightless mostly so that having hands with fingers instead of what birds have won't be a liability to their mobility) I think your comment highlighted the biggest issue I have with them which I'm heavily human biased so the workarounds they would come up with is really difficult to imagine $\endgroup$
    – Armind
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 15:43

If feathers get in the way of manipulating objects your intelligent tool users will evolve to not have feathers on their hands long before they develop the tools and culture necessary to not cut feathers as a indicator of wealth.

Congratulations you've discovered fingernails.

These days humans can do all sorts of fancy things with our nails if we aren't doing manual labor. We have only reached this point after a long period where every proto-human was needing to work with their hands and manipulate objects constantly for survival. Note for instance that we have less hair on our hands relative to the rest of our bodies.

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    $\begingroup$ you made a interesting point there which make me think I should edit my question to make it clearer. they got to sentience and tool using using their talons and beak since their hands are mostly inefficient with feathers on. so they had the tools to cut their hand feathers before they needed the precision of featherless hands. they use their talons and beak as their main manipulation limbs like we used our hands as main manipulation limbs $\endgroup$
    – Armind
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 15:33

We are not using feet for precision manipulation and neither our mouth.

There's good reason for that, in site of fact there are some persons able to paint with feet or mouth (and I'm not speaking about some "so called" painters seemingly painting with their left foot).

I do remember a very old short novel where a race of alien avians surprised earth researches being able to deftly manipulate tools with their talons.

Talons were thought not possess the necessary dexterity because they are used for locomotion, thus they must be sturdy to lift and balance the whole body.

Trick was to have wings (when not used for flying) capable of being lowered and used as support for the whole body, freeing "legs" from heavy support work to be used "hand-like.

Sorry I don't remember neither author nor exact title.


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