Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization

First Edition

© 1975-1979, 2008 Robert A. Freitas Jr. All Rights Reserved.

Robert A. Freitas Jr., Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization, First Edition, Xenology Research Institute, Sacramento, CA, 1979; http://www.xenology.info/Xeno.htm


20.3.3  Avian Civilizations

Almost without exception, previous writers have concluded that technological civilization among avian creatures is virtually impossible. (See Hoyle,1559 MacGowan and Ordway,600 and Strong.50) Again, the author strongly disputes this conclusion.

First of all, aerial lifeforms on Earth appear favorably disposed to tool-using. Solitary wasps (Ammophila) pound their nest entrances shut with a small pebble held in their mandibles. The woodpecker finch uses twigs, cactus spines and leaf stems to dig insects out of crevasses in tree bark. The Australian black-breasted buzzard carries rocks and lumps of soil skyward; released, the rocks fall on the eggs of other birds which break and are eaten by the buzzard. The black cockatoo of the Aru Islands grasps nuts in its beak with a leaf while cracking them open (like holding a jar in a towel for better traction while the lid is twisted off). And northern blue jays, held in captivity, have been observed tearing off strips of newspaper flooring and using them to rake in food pellets placed out of reach beyond the mesh wall of the cage.565 Extraterrestrial creatures evolving in similar aerial niches may be expected to develop similar biological predispositions.

How about manipulative appendages? Several writers have argued that when birds evolved wings they lost the use of one of their two pairs of limbs. Thus they cannot have arms or hands to work out their intelligence in technology, and so there can be no technical civilization of the air. But this line of reasoning overlooks the possibility that the ancestral form of alien avians might be, say, hexapodal. If the original reptilian stock had begun with six legs instead in four, then two could evolve into wings, two into arms, and two could remain legs. Alternatively, the "gasbag beasts" described in an earlier chapter would most likely feed from the underside, and so might evolve mouth-tentacles much like the cephalopods of Earth’s seas. Such limbs would admirably fulfill the requirement of a manipulatory organ and should permit the emergence of an ET avian technological civilization.3234

As for materials and energy, resources on the ground will probably have to be tapped because the air is practically devoid of useful minerals. Wind power and rain power are possibilities, but fire is probably much easier and will directly permit the smelting of structural and ornamental metals. Avian technology should be very similar to telluric technology generally. It is also possible that tool-using avians may be land-dwelling "returned" lifeforms, adapted to a permanently flightless existence much like the ostrich, the kiwi, and the extinct giant moa (a bipedal, bimanous 240 kg bird) of Earth.3006


Last updated on 6 December 2008