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So I have sparrows, which are sentient and intelligent, which are physically exactly still just the same, no extra hands or anything, so any weapon would have to be held in the feet or somehow attached to the wings.

They have roughly the mentality of this .gif, and I would imagine that simply holding knives in either their beak or feet and aiming for the face and eye slits or other exposed parts of the armor of a person.

However, what sort of ranged weapon, if any, might they use? Keep in mind that they fight human-sized people, but they will also have their own human-sized allies to help build and attach any equipment

EDIT 1: Tech level is roughly late medieval with some magic

EDIT 2: Both one on one, dueling, and war scenarios answers would be good

EDIT 3: No, the sparrows should remain sparrow sized, preferably. No extra limbs either.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm sad that I had to go to the 7th answer to find one even remotely discussing weight ratios, let alone mentioning Monty Python... $\endgroup$ – Culyx Feb 2 '15 at 19:40
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    $\begingroup$ African or European? $\endgroup$ – A E Feb 2 '15 at 19:55
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    $\begingroup$ Judicious use of the "Makeus Enormous" spell. $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Feb 3 '15 at 1:36
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    $\begingroup$ Obviously they would use themselves as projectiles. However, given the limited mass each bird is likely to have, I should imagine they would try to maximize their velocity for maximal stopping power. I should expect they would build a large catapult to launch themselves from. $\endgroup$ – Aron Feb 3 '15 at 8:14
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    $\begingroup$ @Aron Presumably they'd also need to make themselves quite angry to deal with flinging themselves at things at high speed? $\endgroup$ – xorsyst Feb 3 '15 at 11:58

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Couple parts of this is probably a little dark.

I don't see your animated gif or the image of sparrows wielding knives very likely. It's cute to watch it run with it, but in the end it's far too much weight for it to fully take off, let alone accurately attack at someones eyes with. There might be a case to be made for 'talon knives', sharp extensions on their existing claws that were small enough for it to still take flight. Think of chicken fights here (the ones where knives are attached to their feet...works as a sharp extention to their back claw that can be used to slash). Even then they'd be pretty useless...imagine the fight scene in Lord of the Rings with hobbits taking on a cave troll. Now shrink the hobbits to the size of house cats. In direct combat, it's a silly matchup.

That said they'd have some pretty interesting but very specialized abilities that would definitely sway the favor of a fight. 2 humans fighting with one getting sparrow support would see the sparrows offer many advantages. 2 or three of them attacking an unarmored persons eyes for example, or attempting to interfere with the already limited sight of a person in a helmet. It might not cripple or disable them immediately, but it gives the advantage to whomever the birds are helping.

(added : if it's a magical land, I'd imagine a wizard would have difficulties casting spells with a sparrow chirping in his face. Sparrows would do a brilliant job of interrupting spell casting, both by fluttering around in a wizards face, and by chirping away interrupting any vocal component)

The other option is to avoid a direct combat fight. A sparrow is decently silent...flying into their opponents bedroom and using a little talon knife to open up their throat would be exceedingly effective assassination. A well trained sparrow could (feasibly) dive bomb and opponent and try to slash at their neck on their way by as well (extra effective if the target doesn't realize it's coming). Think rogue tactics in D&D for other ideas, anything that works as a sneak attack really.

At a larger scale they could be quite fun. A large group of cavalry are flanking on the left when they are struck by a flock of thousands of sparrows attempting to interfere with the riders and mounts vision causing riders to fall and horses to collide mid charge. At this point, their weapon is their sheer numbers and confusion. Using a bird flock to mask friendly troop movement is possible...even flying in and pecking apart the opposing armies banners (flag standards are used as communication...how do you tell the archers to fire if the banner you wave to give them the signal to fire is shredded by birds?).

There's many specialized roles they could help with. One of the biggest issues in Medieval war is ultimately communication...having a bird fly from group to group distributing commands would be exceedingly helpful. A bird eye view of the battlefield to locate enemy positions and tactics before they get to you...I would suspect a sparrow general flying far overhead as he commands the battle infront of him would have a tremendous advantage over generals who's sight is relegated to the ground.

As a suicidal effort, what is to prevent them from loading up on as much black powder as they could carry and fly with, and send themselves flying in to enemy's supply depots? A few good small birds could create several large fires pretty quickly. Less suicidal...if they could learn to use flint and steel, just flying into stores and fields and lighting fires would be effective.

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  • $\begingroup$ I would like to add that the .gif that I got was only to demonstrate how they would view things, which is to say that they can get really angry, determined, and cute. Ultimately I was not going to with that anyways. $\endgroup$ – grimmsdottir Feb 3 '15 at 2:23
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    $\begingroup$ @grimmsdottir I should point out that I left this to combat...these birds have some incredible intelligence gathering potential. If you heard the term 'to be a fly on the wall for that conversation'...to be a sparrow up in the rafters and overhear conversations that were never intended for anyone else to hear could provide some invaluable intelligence information. If you were invading and planning on assaulting a castle, allowing these birds a few weeks of intelligence gathering (from defense capabilities/weaknesses, overhead map, key points, etc...) would make the invasion much more smooth. $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Feb 3 '15 at 18:29
  • $\begingroup$ Added in a part, if you do have spell casters in the world, a sparrow would make an excellent distraction and really hinder any ability to cast spells. $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Feb 3 '15 at 18:41
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Small bombs. While a single swallow might be unable to carry one, two swallows could quite easily hold such a bomb. In order to fly sufficiently far apart to navigate, they'd probably attach said bomb to a small length of standard creeper.

Manufacturing the device wouldn't be terribly hard. The birds could retrieve small amounts of gunpowder ingredients and crush them into a fine powder using their beaks. They could then use some form of large seed as an outer container to hold the gunpowder, pouring the powder in through a small hole, stoppered by a fuse.

For the seed, your best bet would be something like the seeds of cocos nucifera. They're large enough to pack a sufficient punch to down a significantly larger target, such as a rabbit or even an armored knight.

The creeper would be required for a particularly small sort of bird to carry the bombs, something like a European swallow. An African swallow could carry the bombs on its own, of course, but those are non-migratory.

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    $\begingroup$ In large enough groups, this could be a cluster bomb style attack. $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Feb 2 '15 at 22:42
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    $\begingroup$ Ah, I see what you did there. +1 $\endgroup$ – Samuel Feb 3 '15 at 3:24
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    $\begingroup$ @Samuel Completely different. These would be laden swallows. $\endgroup$ – Aron Feb 3 '15 at 8:15
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    $\begingroup$ Related: bat bombs. Americans tried to burn down Japanese cities with them, but the bats preferred torching an American military base. $\endgroup$ – CodesInChaos Feb 3 '15 at 9:21
  • $\begingroup$ Is it an African Swallow? $\endgroup$ – Psychrom Sep 29 '15 at 17:24
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The problem that small creatures face is that they lack the size and penetrating power to do serious damage to a full sized target unless they manage to hit a vital area such as a jugular. Those vital areas also tend to be well protected by armour.

The obvious solution to this is poison. The birds would drop poisoned darts from a height, the fall giving them enough strength to break the skin, the poison then finishing the job.

Bird anatomy does not really lend itself towards the use of blowguns, something like a spear launcher adapted to darts and fired using the legs might work though. Their wings are needed for flight so are unlikely to be used for combat.

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    $\begingroup$ As an additional way to use these darts from other angles, they could dive bomb and release the dart like a missile. This would let them deliver reasonable sized payloads. The hardest part is keeping the arrow straight as you leave the boundary layer and enter the slipstream. This is actually a selling point to me: birds are naturally sensitive to how this intermediate layer behaves because they need it for flying efficiently; it should be easy for them. Any good weapon should take advantage of your race's strengths. An intuitive sense of aerodynamics should be on that list of strengths. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Feb 2 '15 at 16:17
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    $\begingroup$ poison the darts and you have a really evil hit and run (dive and fly) weapon, the birds dive down let some darts loose some of which hit others don't and then they just fly up again waiting for their enemies to die of the poison. $\endgroup$ – Thijser Feb 2 '15 at 19:19
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    $\begingroup$ Sparrows would make natural dive bombers. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Feb 2 '15 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Thijser Yep, that's essentially what I had in mind :) $\endgroup$ – Tim B Feb 3 '15 at 10:00
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Honestly, I'd say they would be best used for intelligence. Spies, messengers etc. They are small, quick and hard to see/target. They should be used for their strengths, not forced into an attacker.

I would also say that their best weapon, are their beaks and claws. Attacking a person or animal in the face/eyes at the least is distracting and blinding an enemy is almost as effective as killing him, maybe more so. If you really want a little bird to be able to kill, then poison is your best bet. Poisoned claws would be best, though there are poisons that would affect humans but have none on birds, these could be used on a beak and pecked deeper into the flesh.

But I stick with, in general they would be best as intel agents.

EDT: Because some think this isn't an answer in the 'spirit' of the question, I'm going to elaborate.

Large sparrows weight about 60 grams, the average human, ~81.6 Kg (180 lbs) (I'm picking a weight in the middle of the averages I found). That is a swallow has .0735% the mass of a human. A similar weight ratio would be for that same human to attack a Brachiosaurus (30-80 tonnes) and 85 feet long

There is not much a single human or even a small number could do to a Brachiosaurus with sticks and stones, or even swords, and the animal would just step on them to get them to stop or swipe them with it's tail. Their best bet would be to attack the head or try and introduce a strong enough poison. If they have time digging a pit for a foot trap to break it's leg could work too.

Now since I took the question to be about utilizing sparrows in battle, I offered a more realistic approach that would be extremely useful. Spies and messengers. The weapons that a little sparrow could take with it are going to be likely less than half their weight, 30g or so. powders of dust/poison and maybe pins strapped to their legs for protection (say against enemy hawks) are going to be about all they can carry.

If they are a known ally of a specific group, then the enemies would train hawks to hunt and kill sparrows. Best to keep a valuable resource like that fairly safe and secret and just be intel agents.

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  • $\begingroup$ That's not really answering the question though... $\endgroup$ – Rowanas Feb 2 '15 at 22:06
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    $\begingroup$ @Rowanas Actually I did. The most effective weapon a teeny-tiny bird has is it's sight. That is a ranged weapon, and communicating what it can see of a battlefield from the air will be much more devastating than any kind of physical weapon system you could devise. As a physical threat they are only really a threat to other small birds. $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Feb 2 '15 at 22:26
  • $\begingroup$ But sight isn't a weapon unless they shoot lasers from their tiny sparrow eyes. It certainly doesn't seem in keeping with the spirit of the question. $\endgroup$ – Rowanas Feb 3 '15 at 8:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Rowanas I extended my answer $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Feb 3 '15 at 14:13
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    $\begingroup$ Heh, ok. I had to pluck up the nerve to disagree with you, since you are the mighty bowlturner, and I am but a tiny scuttling insect. $\endgroup$ – Rowanas Feb 3 '15 at 21:40
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Hit them in the eyes

A small bird lacks the strength to do serious physical damage to a large opponent. By necessity this means that the only way they can be effective is to choose attack spots where a small amount of damage can cause a big effect.

Any armored opponent will have protected vital areas such as the neck. However, they still need to see, and an incapacitated opponent is almost as defeated as a killed opponent, especially if it's on a battlefield where anyone can easily make a killing blow to a defenseless enemy.

As a ranged weapon against the eyes you have the following options:

  • mechanical damage - miniature throwing weapons that a bird can hold - a small scale spear IMHO wouldn't be stable in flight, but a rapidly rotating shuriken-style weapon could be an option.
  • mechanical irritant - a cloud of very small, sharp things - imagine the effect of sand being thrown in your eyes, but instead of sand use something like a bag of sharp tiny metal splinters;
  • chemical irritant - for example, powdered chili peppers (the active ingredient - capsicin - is used in modern tear sprays) or acid. If delivered with a targeted throw to the area of eyes, even small quantities will cause a serious effect. Armored targets may be vulnerable to panic, as the only reasonable mitigation would be to wash the eyes with plenty of water, but helmets and gloves would make it hard to even instinctively rub their eyes.
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    $\begingroup$ Capsaicin is especially suitable for this purpose, since sparrows are immune to it. $\endgroup$ – March Ho Aug 9 '15 at 2:40
  • $\begingroup$ Not that this invalidates the answer at all, but shurikens are not very effective at dealing major damage. Their actual use was more often for distraction and disruption of the enemy rather than actual damage. (ie. stick a sharpened coin into someone's arm or hand and run when it causes them to drop their sword) I honestly see sparrows mostly serving the distraction/disruption role anyway. $\endgroup$ – Logan Kitchen Mar 1 '17 at 20:56
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Why on earth would a sparrow fight a pitched battle with humans in armour?

That armour has straps. Those straps are chewable. The human isn't always wearing the armour.

Sparrows are the ultimate guerilla fighters. They don't need to fight pitched battles. They can just turn up in a group of about a hundred and beak their way through your tents, through the straps on your stored armour, peck out the eyes of your horses, and be home in time for supper with minimal risk to themselves.

There's a story in Mushashi's book of 5 rings, where a swordsman is considered to have mastered the pinnacle of his art because he was able to hit a single sparrow. They're famously sword-proof.

A force of 100 sentient sparrows would render it utterly impossible to keep an army (or any smaller force) in the field.

Why on earth would they ever decided to fight a pitched battle?

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  • $\begingroup$ That's pretty good idea actually, thanks for this particular avenue of idea. Many other answers speak of either subterfuge or poison, but I like this one for it's good take on warfare $\endgroup$ – grimmsdottir Feb 3 '15 at 15:09
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    $\begingroup$ The only problem is once the sparrows become effective people will carry a sword on one hip and an improvised tennis / squash racket on the other. 100 sentient sparrows might turn into the staple diet for the army. $\endgroup$ – Mikey Mouse Feb 4 '15 at 11:13
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Small birds like swallows only weigh around 30g. While I do not know their typical carrying capacity, one can assume it is negligible (sounds like a Monty Python joke). When your weight limit is only a couple grams, no realistic weapon is possible, especially if the opponents are armored (even just clothing would defeat the attack). Even melee weapons would be largely ineffective as they simply lack the mass to do any harm.

You might possibly claim dive-bombing with a chemical agent, but whatever quantity you could actually deliver would just be an irritant at best. If you want to go high-tech, you might use some exotic nerve agent so a tiny amount in the eyes would have an effect, or possibly an engineered virus, but that would be defeated by a face shield. Unless you envision them poisoning/infecting unsuspecting civilians, a little bird weighing around an ounce is not going to come wielding weapons of war (and keep in mind that their legs are not muscular - it can hold onto a branch with just enough to keep from falling off - they are not capable of significant manipulation).

Their only use in conflict would be as scouts/spies and messengers, while any opponent aware of these birds being intelligent would likely employ birds of prey to bring them down.

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Many sparrow species flock en masse and can remain airborne for extended periods of time. Individually armed with a small, poisoned, armour-penetrating steel flechette, released from a deep dive, a sparrow could be accurate and effective beyond the range of archers. Most flechette designs are self-righting, meaning that a sparrow would be able to "reload" itself by grasping a new flechette in its feet without any human intervention. Unfortunately, weighing only about twice as much as the flechette itself, a sparrow would only be able to "fire" once before returning to base. (Assuming the sparrows could carry the flechettes on a line between them, this might conceivably be increased to three per pair, albeit with reduced accuracy.) This would mean that within an arrowflight, an archer would be far more effective.

Perhaps the most effective use of the sparrows would be psychological. While their average rate of fire would be extremely poor, a flock of 10,000 sparrows could unleash a devastating opening salvo - something close to the first seconds of an artillery barrage. This would make them an incredibly mobile area denial weapon, and their shadow would have a profound effect on morale - slowing, supressing and possibly tiring an advancing army as it marched with shields raised overhead for several miles. While a visible dive would be needed for greatest accuracy, high-released flechettes would be essentially invisible - a handful of these could heighten the psychological impact of the flock hovering overhead. Targeted attacks on enemy leadership, standard bearers, etc., would further sap morale. At a range of several day's march, mass attacks on resting or resupplying troops could have a debilitating effect.

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Drones

A drone

  • The sparrows are too small to carry much weight, so they should use a technological solution which means they don't have to.

  • They are intelligent, so they can remote-control the drone using the sparrow-computer interface of their choice (perhaps a beak-controlled joystick?)

  • As they are themselves flying creatures, they would have a natural facility for piloting.

  • A drone - or a flock of drones - could shadow a sparrow in flight, defending it. Like the drones you used to be able to get as power-ups in the video game 'R-type'. They kind of hung around you and shot at the baddies with you.

As well as the drone-type pictured above, consider quadcopters (because they can travel at lower speeds, like a sparrow).

At our current level of technology (perhaps sparrow-tech is higher?) drones can already carry fairly heavy munitions, such as the Hellfire tankbuster:

Hellfire missile

Hellfire II's semi-active laser variants—AGM-114K high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT), AGM-114KII with external blast fragmentation sleeve, AGM-114M (blast fragmentation), and AGM-114N metal augmented charge (MAC)—achieve pinpoint accuracy by homing in on a reflected laser beam aimed at the target. Predator and Reaper UCAVs carry the Hellfire II... The AGM-114L, or Longbow Hellfire, is a fire-and-forget weapon: equipped with a millimeter wave (MMW) radar seeker, it requires no further guidance after launch—even being able to lock-on to its target after launch—and can hit its target without the launcher or other friendly unit being in line of sight of the target.

Clearly no-one would want to mess with a sparrow that had control of one of those.

For an option with a less threatening appearance, and for reconnaissance and perhaps light 'bodyguard' duties, the sparrows should consider something like the Black Hornet Nano drone, which is itself approximately sparrow-sized, and therefore should fit in pretty well in sparrow society:

Black Hornet Nano drone

You could also consider vehicles and machines which make the size and strength of the operator basically irrelevant, such as tanks, fighter jets (since these are now all fly-by-wire there's no reason they couldn't be flown by an intelligent sparrow) or (a more sci-fi option) ginormous sparrow-controlled battle robots.

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    $\begingroup$ I dig the idea of having some sort of thing that the sparrows can use to shadow themselves and move to drop weapons, and it would not be too much of a stretch to use magic or something to pad it for a fantasy setting $\endgroup$ – grimmsdottir Feb 3 '15 at 0:12
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    $\begingroup$ @grimmsdottir, maybe make the drones intelligent in themselves, like in the novels of Iain M Banks. Kind of a sidekick. I can't get you to consider ginormous sparrow-controlled battle robots? Mecha style sparrows. $\endgroup$ – A E Feb 3 '15 at 10:14
  • $\begingroup$ Relevant to your missile idea $\endgroup$ – March Ho Aug 9 '15 at 2:46
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Disclaimer: this answer is going to be multitudes less realistic than the others posted here.

Okay, now that that's out of the way... Razor beaks. Tiny little armored plates, sharpened and placed over their beaks, to give them extra razor-sharpness and punching power. They can act like tiny little homing bullets, aiming at vulnerable gaps in armor and pecking the heck out of it with all the malice and hatred their tiny bodies can store.

Edit: Woops, ranged weapons, sorry.

Another idea would be for them to simply carry bags of irritant, such as itching or sneezing powder, and indiscriminately carpet bomb enemy formations. This wouldn't do much in terms of damage, but it would dampen morale and hamper concentration.

Proceeding with my idea of carpet bombing, they could also drop bags of teeny-tiny caltrops. This would hamper movement and be irritating at least and painful at worst. Dip those things in feces or poison and you have yourself a truly rather potent weapon, which can cause infection if it pierces the skin.

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    $\begingroup$ Nice idea, the question specifically asked for ranged weapons though which razor beaks wouldn't qualify as. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Feb 2 '15 at 16:37
  • $\begingroup$ @TimB o ya. I wasn't paying attention. Lemme fix dat. $\endgroup$ – Feaurie Vladskovitz Feb 2 '15 at 16:38
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Grabbing the technological high ground for this exploration of avian armaments, I propose the beak mounted laser range finder, which when paired with laser-targeted anti-tank missles should provide the sparrows with a significant battle field advantage over even heavily armored human-sized targets.

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  • $\begingroup$ Or, the sparrows carry an IR light that their human allies fire missiles at. "Oh look at the cute little sparrow. He wants to sit on my head! Hey, can you take a pictu....." <BOOM> $\endgroup$ – Wayne Feb 2 '15 at 23:50
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Why not either:

  1. A spring loaded single use spear that could be loaded by beak and claws when landed

or

  1. A single/multiple use firearm

or

  1. A single use crossbow (e.g. like a hand crossbow)

The thoughts are they could be loaded while landed using beaks and claws to manipulate the ammos...firing would have a claw-trigger or beak-trigger (like hold a cord in a beak and tug)

  1. Would be like pebbles/rocks dropped as bombs -- and, depending on technology, actual bombs
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  • $\begingroup$ Not sure if a sparrow could feasibly carry any of that...beyond maybe a tooth pick sized spear. $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Feb 3 '15 at 20:42
  • $\begingroup$ Ever taken a toothpick in a soft spot? Like gums or more preferably eyes? $\endgroup$ – Caleb Woodman Mar 27 '16 at 2:22
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I picture a lightweight fabric system attached to the bird with two spring loaded dart launchers mounted just behind the eyes.

The fabric system would be similar to a bandolier wrapping cross wise along the back and front. The front straps will have attached to them two pull cords which could be activated by a tug from one of the sparrow's feet.

The tug on the pull cord will release the spring and launch the dart (preferably poisonous) at the sparrow's likely terrified victim.

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Missiles.

During WWII US developed experimental pigeon-guided missile. Human allies can build them, sparrows would guide them by pecking on target, and flying away just before impact.

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  • $\begingroup$ +1. Though in regards to "flying away just before impact", perhaps not. Depends on the story, motivations, etc. $\endgroup$ – Wayne Feb 2 '15 at 23:48
  • $\begingroup$ @WayneSo, homing pigeons? $\endgroup$ – grimmsdottir Feb 3 '15 at 0:13
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From a different tact, you could consider that they have used their intelligence to domesticate a highly effective and loyal "attack" animal species. Training tigers, or something, over centuries to follow their will. Sidenote: I laughed out loud visualizing that.

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Sparrows would only be able to carry very light items in their claws. They would also will have trouble aiming the item in the direction they are flying, as it would require them to have one leg in front of the other.

To overcome this they could carry something like small caltrops. Caltrops do not require to be aimed in any direction, the sharp edges can be poisoned, the sparrow can easily avoid the poisoned edges with its little feet.

The caltrops might get under the armour through the spaces between plates and even if they don't get through the clothes at first, the sharp edges can work their way through over time.

As others have stated, the sparrows will likely miss the intended targets often, but the caltrops will remain on the ground and be a danger to horses and people stepping on them.

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Abilities of sparrows denied to humans:

  1. Flying
  2. Flocking (thanks to other answers)
  3. Aerial Manoeuvrability

So potential attacks are:

  1. Blizzard: Descend on a human encampment with sharp, poisonous or caustic weapons in a flock, leaving a huge number of small cuts, barbs, burns
  2. Carpet: Anywhere the humans look like they are heading, you lay instant minefield of small explosives in their path; the explosions and smoke should largely delay them
  3. Large animal leverage: A flock is scary to a large animal, particularly one that has seen these angry flocks before, so you can drive large numbers of terrified beasts towards any human caravan or encampment.
  4. Vertical bombardment: You can drop anything from high enough up, so a nice shard of something with an explosive on the back could make for a rain of sharp pain. A mustard-gas releasing bag on the backs of the shards could create instant panic.
  5. Surprise: Sparrows could hide in heather or other low scrub foliage, and just emerge suddenly en masse forming an unexpected swarm per the blizzard attack above
  6. Sorcery: If they are equivalent to humans in intelligence etc, there is no reason to assume they don't have sorcerors, so any feat of magic that humans might deploy against a larger foe would be available to the sparrows against humans.
  7. Zero impulse gun: A normal gun has a recoil problematic for a sparrow. However, a tube with explosive at the centre and both a bullet at one end and a ballast plug at the other would have no net recoil; the bullet would be blown towards the target and the ballast would be blown in the opposite direction. A grid of sparrows could fly over the target, fire at the target and scarper, leaving a second wave of projectiles (e.g. poisonous ballast) to drop on the target after the initial shots.
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EDIT PER YOUR ANSWER: Then the answer has to be magical weapons. The difficulty will be: how magical? Too magical and it may be a slam dunk defeat -- depending on how magical the humans are. Not enough magic and you're still stuck with sparrows dropping (magical) pebbles.

I think the big thing you have to determine is: do the humans know they're fighting sparrows or not? If a human army is marching a long distance to fight a kingdom that they don't realize is run by sparrows, you have a lot of room for maneuver.

The sparrows could at first poison/taint food and water. Then begin to attack horses and wagons necessary for carrying supplies. Have a burnt-earth policy to deny the humans food via foraging.

(I really, really think you'll also need sparrows willing to die in the fight as suicide attackers. Otherwise, as I said above, you'll have to resort to the sparrows having better magic than the humans. Other suggestions like "eat leather straps", etc, would eventually fail as the humans adapted and added nets around things, put chemicals on the leather straps (suicide for the attacking bird), etc.)

The whole idea would be to make the human supply lines difficult to maintain, and to essentially terrorize the humans who would be shocked by little birds driven to kill in suicide attacks. The sparrows could make it look like the humans were going up against some crazy mage king who could drive even the smallest of animals to suicidal attacks. Imagine what will happen when they get close enough that the mage emerges and fights them directly. (Or with the help of larger animals or monsters.)

Simultaneously, the sparrows could let other human groups -- unfriendly to the kingdom attacking the sparrows -- know that the army was stretched thin and far from home. Perfect time to attack.

ORIGINAL:

Can the weapons be magical? (I.e. do you have a high- or low-magical story?)

If not, can the sparrows be a lot like sparrows but actually larger? Or have larger warriors that have been specially bred for war?

Or maybe their allies could soak them in gasoline and give them tiny sparkers, so they set themselves on fire and plunge into their enemies' camps, supply wagons, etc? Maybe 10,000 flaming sparrows would do the trick.

Or perhaps the Sparrows could be loaded up with dozens of plague-bearing fleas and could plunge into their enemies' camps. Sort of a two-step, biological attack. If their enemies were medieval-level technology-wise, it would do the trick. Of course the sparrows and their human-sized allies might also have some, um, complications.

Without some edge like that, they'll be more comical than deadly. (Unless their targets are unsuspecting, in which case you might as well have them drop poison in their targets' food/drink. Especially in a low-magic world, it would be really hard to figure out that your people are being poisoned by cute little sparrows.!)

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  • $\begingroup$ Weapons can be magical, but the sparrows should remain sparrows, very small and light. Another thing is that yes the sparrows do come in large numbers, but they are not suicidaly disposable $\endgroup$ – grimmsdottir Feb 3 '15 at 0:15
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Sharp darts, dropped from as high as possible, preferably with poisoned tips.

A sparrow can't carry much, and they'll be tricky to aim, but if the sparrows are determined and have enough intelligence and patience and attention span to keep it up, they could approach at high altitude and keep dropping all day until they connect. A high-flying sparrow is nearly impossible to hit with something like a bow from the ground, and many attacks which miss may be completely unnoticed by a traveling group of humanoids.

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I'm thinking a blow dart of some sort (obviously with a mouth piece that would fit a beak)

It would be aerodynamic and strap onto the back to allow the bird to fly still.

maybe it would sort of fit onto the beak to allow claw-free operation

poisonous darts could be targeted at enemies weaker points (eyes, neck etc) meaning the dart wouldn't need a huge amount of force and this could be something that a bird could produce (they can sing pretty loud so I'm assuming they have the 'wind' to shoot a dart)

Not medieval but it is a primitive tech

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    $\begingroup$ I was thinking poisoned blow dart as well, because blow darts are pretty light, but I think having them carry the darts in their claws and dive & release them might work out better than blowing for them - after all, humans have around 3 liters of air in one deep breath to work with. Sparrows are much tinier. $\endgroup$ – Sumyrda Feb 3 '15 at 7:45
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Medieval towns and everything else are extremely vulnerable to fire. And, if nobody has prepared anti-sparrow technology, they can fly in anywhere, and start a fire burning out all of their opponents.

Also, poison the wells.

Acid-bombs.

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A race of sentient sparrows is going to be at a large disadvantage in direct combat with human-sized foes, simply by virtue of their diminutive size. If this race has been sentient for any length of time, they would be well aware of this and likely avoid direct combat in favor of spellcasting and asymetric warefare.

Spellcasters of all stripes dream of the day that they can magically fly to prevent those nasty sword swingers from dirtying their robes. These sparrows can do this from 1st level, giving them a huge advantage. Even a lowly 1st level magic missile is going to out damage and out range any physical weapon a sparrow could wield. A couple dozen such sparrows flying over the battlefield could assassinate any opposing leadership, and fly home while their larger minions (and magical summons) benefit from the chaos.

As other have mentioned, sneaky tactics would also play to their natural attributes. Soon as the threat is known, start sending in rogue/assassin birds every night. With a little knowledge of human anatomy, it takes only seconds to cripple an unconscious target with a tiny fighting razor. What army would be able to keep up moral when they can't rest for fear of being killed or maimed in their sleep?

(Note: I assume the fantasy standards of "Wizards slinging magic missiles" and "Rogues backstabbing" translate to your world!)

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How about something as simple as carrying and dropping ball bearings or marbles? Dropped from a height they could be quite painful if they landed on a bare head, and once underfoot it could create a "slippery" situation. Imagine all those flesh-wounds.

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