Feather Fingers

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"Hey, I'm trying to pass the potatoes! My forelimbs are as useless as yours!"
A T. Rex, The Far Side

You may have noticed that many non-primate animals have extremely un-humanlike limbs. They may have wings, they may have fins, they may have claws like a lobster or long grappling hooks like a sloth or hooves like a cow.

But because Most Animators Are Human, they have a tendency to fall back on making the very different anatomy of animal characters — even those who aren't, strictly speaking, anthropomorphic — do things they'd be physically incapable of in order to closely mimic human actions. Therefore, every animal forelimb, no matter how little it resembles a human hand, is prehensile.

The Trope Namers are all the otherwise non-anthro cartoon birds who can hold things in their primary wing feathers, such as Woodstock. The primary wing feathers sort of look like fingers, so naturally in cartoons they act like fingers. Not a heavily modified and specialized extension of their body covering (meaning that this makes as much sense as Prehensile Hair). This version tends to go hand-in-hand (sorry) with Acrophobic Bird.

There is a variant of this trope in which thumbs appear on the front paws of many cats and dogs (and sometimes other animals) when grasping something or gesturing, but disappear when the front paws are just used for four-legged walking or otherwise in a default pose.

This variant is sometimes applied to characters with Fingerless Hands, characters who don't have (apparent) fingers.

This is usually the very first step in a character/series' Anthropomorphic Shift. It's just easier for animators to draw a character playing the drums or baking cookies using the body motions based off human references. It takes a hell of a lot of dedication to avert this trope, as it involves having to stop and really think about how the heck a penguin could possibly manipulate a tuba.

See also Cartoony Eyes, Toothy Bird, Anatomy Anomaly, and Invisible Anatomy. Compare the far more common Humanlike Hand Anatomy, which is when the artist just draws the animal with hands instead of paws/hooves/wings to begin with. For, shall we say, a less family friendly human-like anatomical modification of non-humanlike animals, see Non-Mammal Mammaries...


Examples

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    Advertising 
  • In a DQ ad, a "rock and roll falcon" gives the heavy metal/evil eye sign with both wings.
  • In an Aflac insurance ad, the company's duck mascot jumps rope as part of his physical therapy, holding the rope with the tips of his wings.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Berserk: Bishop Mozgus' stone angel form has an Exaggerated version: not only can his wingtips clench their feathers into fists as if they were fingers, but each of his wings' individual feathers can do this, which basically gives him dozens of fists with which to pummel Guts all at once. He doesn't practicularly need them for grabbing things since he still has his human arms too; the wing fists are just for Rapid-Fire Fisticuffs.
  • Subverted with Tama the tiger in Hayate the Combat Butler. Despite apparently being a certified boiler engineer, Tama clearly has extreme difficulty in manipulating controls of any kind, or holding things without shredding them. Which is kinda funny since even big cats can sheath their claws. Usually only doing big stretches do claws automatically pop out.
  • One Piece
    • Perhaps justified with Tony Tony Chopper, the Devil Fruit-enabled human-reindeer, who has obvious hooves, but never seems to have any trouble doing human tasks that would seem to require hands, even play Rock Paper Scissors.
    • Post time-skip Franky averts this by having small hands extend from the palms of his much larger hands, which would be too bulky to do any delicate shipwrighting.
    • The Harpy Monet is seen reading a newspaper by holding it between her primary feathers. However, this can be justified because she's an artificial harpy made by Law (he swapped her limbs for wings and talons), whose powers follow logical sense very loosely.

    Comic Books 
  • Big Eggo, an ostrich, the original cover star from The Beano used this trope to try and appear more human. It didn't work, and the character was later replaced by a more human bear.
  • In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the creations of Dr. Moreau — who are twisted parodies of existing Funny Animal characters — are very anthropomorphic, but the plotline dwells heavily on how unnatural and physically painful it is for them to walk on their hind legs and imitate other human behaviors. Furthermore, the comic book was being faithful to the source, as this is a major point of contention in the original novel as well.

    Comic Strips 
  • In Peanuts, Woodstock's wings work as hands. He can even type.
  • Gary Larson liked to subvert this in The Far Side, even though he was just as likely to play it straight based upon the Rule of Funny.
    • In one comic, two cows were staring at a ringing phone, unable to answer it due to lacking opposable thumbs.
    • Another had several snakes wanting to let another snake in, but being not quite sure how to work the doorknob. (Don't ask how the other snakes got inside in the first place...)
    • In yet another comic, a T. rex bemoans its inability to pass the potatoes due to its tiny arms, providing the page quote.
  • In a Calvin and Hobbes strip Calvin and Hobbes start repeatedly zapping each other with a transmogrifier pistol for revenge. No matter what form each is in, he's still able to work the trigger — the most extreme case being when Calvin is a flower, apparently having prehensile leaves.

    Fan Works 
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fan works usually -ahem- Hand Wave this sort of thing by giving ponies prehensile hooves in some fashion or other.
  • A particularly painful example in the fanfic Frigid Winds And Burning Hearts: one of the characters, a non-anthropomorphic pony, pulls out and fires a crossbow. Something that's physically impossible to use without fingers. (He's not a unicorn, either, so no telekinesis.)

    Films — Animation 
  • The Gabble sisters and their Uncle Waldo from The Aristocats.
  • The pigeons in Bolt surprisingly avert this. Even when gesturing, their wings still move like real wings, and they tend to investigate or manipulate objects with their beaks.
  • Done with a variation in the Cars movies. The characters don't have any appendages at all, yet they manage to write, paint, operate machinery, and hold things. This is usually done with a combination of prehensile antennae, prehensile windshield wipers, or clamps.
  • Kung Fu Panda has mixed uses of this trope. Ducks and geese are able to use their feathers like fingers, but Crane (the, well, crane) has realistic wings and uses his feet and beak to move objects. Lord Shen (a peacock) is a combination of the two, using both his wings and his feet at times.
  • The owls in Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole use their feet rather than their wings to manipulate objects.
  • Puss in Boots (and the other cats) in the three Shrek sequels and in his own movie has normal cat paws, but with manual dexterity equal to that of a human.
  • Averted — for the most part — with the fish in Finding Nemo. Not so much with Nigel the pelican. His primary feathers are fully rendered in extreme detail, so they are practically a Lampshade Hanging on how odd this looks.
  • Somewhat related is one of the major criticisms directed at Happy Feet. The result of using motion capture footage of humans to animate penguins tap-dancing ends up very strange, due to the wildly different anatomy.
  • Played straight in the film adaptation of The Trumpet of the Swan. We mention it here because the book had actually averted this trope and had the swan play with his feet. This was a major plot point in the book, in fact. Louis at one point asks his Token Human Friend to cut apart the webbing between the toes of one of his feet, thus severely handicapping his ability to swim and fly in exchange for being a more dexterous trumpet player.

    Literature 
  • Played with in the Spellsinger novels. While the series' intelligent birds have an unlikely degree of manual dexterity with their "prehensile wingtips" (as the books repeatedly say), weapons and tools with special handles — hollow cones they can tuck their feathers' tips inside — are designed for their use. Averted for equines and other quadrupeds, who can't use their forelimbs as hands at all.
  • In Timothy Zahn's Hand of Thrawn duology, the President of the New Republic is a Calibop, an avian sentient species with a number of equine features. They also have wings and prehensile feathertips; the President is shown manipulating keys on a lectern and later signing the Imperial-New Republic peace treaty with Pellaeon. Granted, this is pretty much the trope played straight with the caveat that Calibops are aliens.
  • Babar the Elephant, of Jean de Brunhoff's stories, normally uses his trunk to manipulate things, much like an actual elephant would. However, Babar (and all the other elephants of Celesteville, for that matter) walk upright on two legs. This means that there are instances of them using their forelimbs like hands — even though their "hands" look identical to those of quadrupedal elephants, completely lacking in fingers. How this is done is a mystery. Additionally, because they seem capable of using both their forelimbs and trunks to manipulate things, elephants in Babar's world effectively have three limbs that can be used to hold and handle things.
  • In Gulliver's Travels the Houyhnhnms, basically sentient horses, are mentioned to have some kind of nearly invisible dewclaw near the hoof. Gulliver once gives one a needle and she threads it effortlessly. The fact that a horse would have a lot of trouble getting and keeping even one hoof up even standing still, and they aren't really equipped to see their own hooves very well, doesn't come up.
  • Dr. Franklin's Island averts this, though it appears at first that it's going to play it straight. Miranda Fallow, turned into a bird, has wings with a look of hands to their tips, but those are just feathers. She has to manipulate things with her feet and beak.
  • Averted in Summer in Orcus. The narration makes a point of mentioning that Reginald Hoopoe's wings aren't manipulatory appendages; his feet double as hands instead.

    Live-Action TV 

    Tabletop Games 
  • With thousands of cards representing the creatures of Magic: The Gathering, and hundreds representing equipment of some kind, the questions of how a Graceful Antelope wields the Sword of Kaldra, or how a Wall of Fire wears a Coral Helm, were asked long ago, and mostly explained away with, well...
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!: Neo-Spacian Air Hummingbird avoids feather fingers by having his wings come out of his back. He has talon hands instead.
  • Performing tasks with two thumbless forepaws and a mouth is a common challenge in Bunnies & Burrows. The GURPS book even suggests a puppet to demonstrate more complicated actions.
  • Hc Svnt Dracones: Most Avian Vectors can form their leading feathers into hand shapes, but they're only good for body language. They do, however have actual hands on the inside of their wings.
  • Eclipse Phase: The Neo-Avian morph (an umbrella term for both uplifted ravens and African Grey Parrots) explicitly have their wings redesigned through genetic engineering, giving them sudo-hands around the "elbow" section of the wing.

    Video Games 
  • A rather unusual subversion takes place in the videogame Godzilla Unleashed. Both King Ghidorah and Mecha-King Ghidorah, who both just happen to be three-headed dragons, use two of their heads/mouths as arms/hands to pick things up. Likewise, Rodan just picks things up with his talons. Then again, this is in line with some of the films, in which Ghidora's heads are essentially hand puppets.
  • The penguins in RuneScape have no fingers. So in the quest where you have to teach them to make music (for the National Anthem, no less), you have to make instruments that do not require fingers. You end up with a cowbell and a bongo.
  • Averted with Lechuku and Nechkuku in Ōkami. While their outfits do have kimono-style sleeves for the wings, they also have a set of more humanoid arms for holding their weapons, and one of their attacks involves them grabbing Amaterasu with their hindclaws like a normal owl.
  • Alternately averted and played straight with Kazooie. In the ending of Banjo-Kazooie, she has no trouble holding a mug. In Banjo-Tooie, however, the lack of proper hands is a gameplay element, as she cannot hang from ledges or climb ropes (then again, she can fly, so...) In Banjo-Kazooie Nuts & Bolts, this goes back to being played straight, as Kazooie holds a wrench for most of the game.
  • Pecker in the Jak and Daxter series might be a justified example, as he is a Mix-and-Match Critter known as a "monkaw," a monkey/macaw hybrid.
  • Pokémon has a few cases of feathers as fingers and vice versa:
    • Farfetch'd plays this trope straight, wielding a leek as a weapon by holding it in one wing.
    • Decidueye takes it a step further, since it's not only drawing an arrow using its wingtip as a hand, the bow itself is the other wing, the bowstring is a vine-like leaf hanging from its shoulders, and the arrow is one of its own quills.
    • Inverted with Lugia; instead of having feather fingers, it has finger feathers! This also seems to be the case with Yvetal.
  • Lampshaded in the Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law Video Game, when Peter Potamus (a purple hippopotamus, for those unfamiliar) attempts to open a cigarette lighter. He fumbles with it for a few seconds, convinces everyone to look at the entrance of the courtroom, then opens the lighter the second the camera is off him.
  • Averted in Tales of Rebirth, where the bird Gajuma combine humanoid arms and hands with wings.
  • You might think that, since the animal villagers can send you handwritten letters, this trope would be in full force in Animal Crossing, but not quite. In New Leaf, Pete the postman...uh, postpelican mentions how sloppy the animals' handwriting is, and notes that most of them don't have opposable thumbs. When avian characters hand you things most of them make do with their wings (or flippers in penguins' case) just like horses and ungulates work with hooves.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • Averted with the Rito in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, which have humanoid arms, hands and fingers that they use for holding things. They fly by magically transforming their arms into wings, and it's outright stated Rito are not born with wings, instead they're a gift from the local dragon.
    • The Rito that appear in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild play it straight. It depicts Kass clearly playing an accordion with his feathered fingers. Meanwhile, Revali and Teba are shown to be proficient archers, and the latter even gives a feathery thumbs-up in the middle of flight no less.

    Visual Novels 
  • This is apparently the case for the birds in Hatoful Boyfriend, as in one route it's a plot point that Dr. Shuu has an injury preventing him from using his right wing this way. However, an early translation of the free version had an error which said Shuu was using his left hand to cut off the heroine's head with a cleaver at the end of his route, leading to a minor meme of drawing or photoshopping him with unexplained human arms. That particular instance was changed to "wing" but at various points in the full game, and the sequel, "hand" is used again. In the manga everybirdie has feather fingers, so maybe "hand" just means the end of the wing to them.

    Web Comics 
  • Played with in The Legend Of Anne Bunny, where equine characters wear special cybergloves over their forehooves.
  • Girl Genius: Krosp, The King of Cats, has normal cat-like paws with short dewclaws, meaning he can't manipulate that many things that need opposable thumbs or hold that many things without using both paws well, like a normal cat.
  • Averted with the bird characters in Poppy O'Possum, who cannot use their wings as hands; instead, they use magic to create hands around their wings' alulae.
  • Played straight with the birds in Kevin & Kell, however Catherine Aura's Character Blog states that this isn't "really" the case, and is just an artistic decision by Holbrook.
  • The Order of the Stick: Blackwing the raven Familiar rarely manipulates things with his wings (although it can happen, notably with scrolls), but he often gestures with them (even while flying), most commonly to "raise a finger" or point at someone.

    Western Animation 
  • My Little Pony:
    • Probably the straightest (but strangest) example for the franchise would be My Little Pony Tales. The Ponies are not normally anthropomorphic or human-like in the least; aside from the fact that they talk, they are quadrupedal equines with hooves. And yet, in this series, they live in a human-like 1980s suburbia, and can carry and use objects that have obviously been designed for humans (which wouldn't be so weird except for the fact that there don't seem to be any humans around), usually just by using their front hooves as if they were hands, and the objects either somehow sticking to them (like pencils or mugs) or just working without any apparent explanation (like guitars or keyboards), without even any attempt at a handwave. The original My Little Pony cartoons kept a couple of humans around for such things, so Hoof Fingers weren't necessary. Just breathe, just breathe...
    • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
      • In the early episodes, ponies often used their mouths (or, for unicorns, their magic powers) for most things we use our hands for. In later episodes, however, this is usually forgotten, as the animators often give up and just manipulate or even inexplicably grasp things with their hooves. Pegasi have also sometimes used their wings in a way that is closer to the trope name than it is to what wings could actually do. The general rule seems to be that the unexplained hoof-grasping is avoided unless it becomes too inconvenient to do so, with a preference for more creative solutions that at least work physically if not physiologically, like a Prehensile Tail.
      • A pegasus's wings, when not used for flying, function similar to a thumbless hand, in that they can manipulate objects (like opening a saddlebag) or support body weight (the rather odd "wing push-ups" some pegasi were seen doing in "Hurricane Fluttershy"), but can't seem to actually grasp things, unless they wrap nearly an entire wing around it.
      • The episode "Newbie Dash" (where pegasi manipulate things with their wings even more often than usual) actually comes up with a very clever justification: at one point, Rainbow Dash is zapped by a thundercloud with X-Ray Sparks in effect, showing a good view of her (presumably pegasus-normal) skeleton — which clearly shows her wings' skeleton not as a birdlike modified arm, but as four separate, jointed finger-like structures stretching from her spine to her wingtips, which is as good an explanation as any for why this trope is in effect.
      • "Parental Glidance" has some particularly extreme examples of this, even by the show's normal use of this trope, with pegasi using their feathers for everything from plugging their ears to counting out points, as well as "shaking wings" or doing a "face-wing".
  • Aladdin: The Series:
    • Iago the parrot holds things in his beak and claws while flying, but uses his wings as hands when on the ground. In at least one episode he loses all his feathers and we can see his wings look like mittens, with opposable thumbs. Granted, if you pay attention to the anatomy of the "hand" next time you eat chicken wings, it does look like a mitten... sort of. But play with the Alula ("thumb") a bit and you'll note the range of motion is very restricted.
    • Other winged characters, like Thundra the Rainbird and Fatima the thief-turned-harpy, also use their wings as hands whenever they're not flying (despite still looking like wings).
  • Dr. Zoidberg on Futurama is an lobster-like alien with claws for "hands". Generally he's about as clumsy as you'd expect, occasionally even snapping things he's trying to hold in two. He does manage to write without too much trouble, and in a couple instances actually holds a needle and sutures a wound. That's probably just Rule of Funny, or simply years of practice. (If you had pincers all your life, you'd pick up a few tricks over time.)
  • On Fish Hooks, the characters' fins actually change shape between semi-normal fins and hands.
  • Unlike the above example, Sally the fish on Scaredy Squirrel uses her fins straight, without them changing shape or being hand-like in nature.
  • Used in one of Robot Chicken's shorts parodying the Muppet Show and the Muppet Babies. When the murderer (who happens to be Skooter dressed up as his homicidal sister, Skeeter, to seek bloody vengeance on the other muppets after they drowned her when they were baby muppets and kept it a secret throughout their lives) corners and is ready to kill the remaining muppets Kermit and Miss Piggy, Carmilla the chicken (Gonzo's love interest before he was killed off first) threatens him with a drawn bow and arrow, prompting the incredulous Skooter to call out on this trope: "You can't shoot me! Chickens don't even have fingers!" (is shot dead).
  • Donald Duck used to have feather fingers, but as his design evolved, he ended up with what were simply feather covered, human-like hands and arms. Of course, this doesn't preclude him from developing Tail Feather Fingers from time to time.
  • Looney Tunes:
    • Mostly averted with the Road Runner: he carries things with his feet instead of his wings, but he holds signs in his wing as if it was a hand.
  • Downplayed in Over the Garden Wall, where Beatrice (a talking bluebird) frequently gestures with her wings as if they were arms (probably out of habit, since she used to be human), but never tries to use them as hands.

    Real Life 
  • Since we're on the subject of avian "hand" anatomy, this is a major point of contention among Paleoartists: Did Maniraptors have truly opposable thumbs or what? It's thought that some of them did, like Bambiraptor, but the others are a puzzle. And this is quite relevant to this trope, as most Anthro artists unquestionably assume that they did. Seriously, though, about the only thing anyone agrees upon is that the "kangaroo hands" in Jurassic Park are all kinds of wrong. A good reference for this can be found here (with super-cute illustrations).
  • The primary feathers on some birds (most notably hawks and other raptors) can be very fingerlike, but this is an illusion due to how the feathers are shaped and/or positioned. The feathers may look like fingers, but they're functionally useless for grasping.
  • Bat wings are the closest to this trope in reality; they're essentially elongated fingers with membrane between them.
  • Similarly, Yi qi, a small dinosaur from Jurassic China, is probably the closest thing to a real avian example of this trope, its wings being batlike in configuration.
  • Pterosaurs downplayed this trope — their wings were made up of elongated pinky fingers, with the rest of their fingers being free and fully functional. The exception was Nyctosaurus, which only had the single wing finger and had no other fingers at all.

Sudden Thumbs Variant Examples:

    Advertising 
  • The Cravendale milk "Thumbcats" adverts have cats with thumbs. They kidnap milkmen and want to steal our Cravendale.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Played with in Chi's Sweet Home and Chi's New Address with the cats. Normal shots of their paws don't show any thumbs, but thumbs show up in close up shots and when they're trying to catch or grasp something. The cats in this anime and manga use their paws like cats normally use their paws rather than like human hands.

    Comics 
  • Early Peanuts strips do this for Snoopy (when he was drawn as a more realistic dog), but eventually he was just given Humanlike Hand Anatomy.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Lion King.
    • Zazu sometimes gestures with his wings, which sometimes become hand-like, but at least he doesn't pick anything up with them. The lions use their dewclaws as thumbs, sometimes using them as hands. This is most obvious with Scar, as seen when he's tormenting a mouse (he even raises his pinky!) and in his Villain Song. The animators said that they tried to avoid having the lions make hand-like gestures with their paws, aside from Scar (because he's more of a ham).
    • Timon just flat-out uses Humanlike Hand Anatomy instead. Meerkats in real life have very long, black claws at the ends of their stubby beige paws, so the animators gave Timon perfectly humanoid hands with black fingers to represent these. He pretty much always walks upright; from the waist up he uses his hands like a human would, both grasping and gesturing often.
  • Cats in The Aristocats have normal cat paws without thumbs when when walking on all fours or otherwise not using them as hands, but gain thumbs when they are using their paws like hands. For example.
  • Lucifer the cat from Cinderella normally has paws without thumbs, but when he is trying to grasp something or catch mice, he gains thumbs.
  • Otis and the other cows from Barnyard and Back at the Barnyard have real-looking front hooves when masquerading as ordinary cows in front of the farmer, but change into prehensile black mitts with thumbs when bipedal.

    Web Comics 
  • A odd case in Melonpool: Sam T. Dogg is a telegraphic dog with no thumbs for most of webcomic with funny jokes, but suddenly had thumbs at one point with lampshading about lack of such in past.

    Western Animation 
  • Scooby-Doo sometimes did this, especially in the earliest cartoons. He normally walks around on all fours, with very dog-like paws, but when a zany scheme is involved, he stands up on his hind legs with no difficulty, and thumbs mysteriously appears on his front paws.
  • Family Guy: Brian the Dog is perfectly canine in every respect (other than speech and bipedal movement), but he still has hands with thumbs — but these turn to normal front paws without thumbs when sitting on the floor on all fours like a dog.
  • Animaniacs:
    • Rita has hands with thumbs when she's on two legs or using them like human hands (i.e., to gesture, grab, or grasp something), but these turn to normal front paws without thumbs when she's on four legs.
    • Same thing occurs with the other cats from Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain, but this is averted with the Warner Sibs in the few instances that they're standing on four legs. They not only retain their thumbs when they're on four legs, their hands still look like hands.
  • In CatDog, the titular duo's hands looks like paws when walking on all-fours.
  • Pooh and Tigger from Winnie-the-Pooh have Fingerless Hands with thumbs that appear when they grasp something or gesture.
  • Thumbs sometimes appear on the paws of Pluto the Pup, Figaro, and other "non-anthro" Classic Disney Shorts dogs and cats when they grasp something or gesture, but sometimes they don't.
  • Phineas and Ferb: Perry the Platypus has stylized paws with no visible fingers while in his mindless pet guise, but human-like hands while on secret agent duty.
  • OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes: In the episode "We've Got Fleas", the title character and his friends become were-animals. In close-ups of their hands, they're still hands (albeit covered in fur), while in long shots, they're thumbless paws.

    Real Life 
  • Inverted with Koalas. They have eight opposable thumbs (two on each paw).

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