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While partly written to celebrate the 150th Birthday of Canada today, what follows is a serious question nonetheless.

The Klingon Bird of Prey is one of the iconic ships of Star Trek. In-universe, it is a design that persists more or less untouched over the course of a century.

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Out-of-universe, I struggle to see any design notes that suggest a "bird of prey". With its signature elongated neck and set-back wings, this ship doesn't scream "eagle" or "hawk" or "falcon". For reference, here is a common Cooper's Hawk:

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In fact, the bird that comes most quickly to mind when I try to imagine the origin of the design we see is the Canada goose:

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Out-of-universe, was there any specific inspiration behind the design of the Klingon Bird of Prey, avian or otherwise?

(Happy Canada Day!)

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    Not everything needs an "inspiration." Perhaps the model for this ship was created without any inspiration whatsoever. – Ham Sandwich Jul 1 '17 at 2:44
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    Qapla', eh. Now, begin the prohcess for firing the disruptors, then we can go back to our hooses. – Robert Columbia Jul 1 '17 at 3:12
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    They come out of nowhere, make lots of obnoxious noises and ruin everything in their general vicinity... Yeah sounds like Canada Geese to me. – Steve-O Jul 1 '17 at 3:27
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    I doubt there's actually a connection here, but the resemblance in profile is admittedly striking. – ApproachingDarknessFish Jul 1 '17 at 6:18
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    Putting this as a comment rather than an answer because I can't find a source to cite, but I recall watching a "behind-the-scenes" show years ago where someone (presumably the designer) mentioned that its major inspiration was a[n American] football player, with his head down/forward and padded shoulders. You can see this best from a head-on view, though you probably wouldn't live long enough to tell anyone about it. Qapla'! – Vanguard3000 Jul 4 '17 at 14:57
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[Posting this as an answer at original poster's request.]

I can't find a source to cite this unfortunately, but I recall watching a "behind-the-scenes" show years ago where someone (presumably the designer) mentioned that its major inspiration was a[n American] football player, with his head down/forward and padded shoulders. You can see this best from a head-on view, though you probably wouldn't live long enough to tell anyone about it. Qapla'!

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(Photos aren't the greatest, but these are the best I could find.)

[EDIT] Actually, I just found a snippet from an interview with the designer here:

Besides Star Wars, you were also involved with Star Trek. In fact, you are credited as the inventor of the distinctive look of the Klingon Bird of Prey starship. How did you come up with this design?

The Klingon Bird of Prey was inspired by body builders' shape when they flex their muscles like crab. I had never seen Star Trek before, I didn't know there was already a bird of prey.

So, while I could swear I remembered him talking about football players, it could have been body-builders. Of course, both stances would have a similar look to them, so it may have been a bit of both, depending on who happened to be interviewing him at the time.

[EDIT 2] [Memory Alpha's entry for the Bird-of-Prey]4 now features the "muscleman" sketch that inspired the ship's design. It seems like Bill George, the model designer, took inspiration from both the muscleman sketch and the physique and equipment of a football player.

Ultimately, aspects of different designs were mixed to create a hybrid of the various looks. One of the sketches that Nilo Rodis gave Bill George, to help George in constructing the first prototype studio model of the ship, featured the image of a muscleman. Despite being somewhat surprised by Rodis' guideline of using this sketch as an influence, George was nevertheless inspired by the appearance of the pictured man while building the original prototype model. The muscular man's down-turned arms influenced the look of the ship's wings in their attack position and his large, distinctive shoulders and trapezius muscles inspired George to add the wiry meshes on the ship's aft hull. George also thought that the sketched male looked somewhat like a football player so he added the twin bulks below the meshes, believing they resembled shoulder pads, and a thin, tiny, brown pipe around the command bulb, as the protective-looking pipe's appearance was similar to a footballer's chin guard.

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In-Universe

The shape and design of the Klingon ship were modelled on a fictional Romulan bird. The Klingon Bird-of-Prey was an updated version of the Romulan Bird-of-Prey from TOS: Balance of Terror.

Initially the baddies in ST:3 were going to be Romulans. After the decision to make the villains Klingons, there was then a (removed) sub-plot about the Klingons and the Romulans sharing technology that would explain their visual and technological similarity.

The Klingon Bird-of-Prey ship type was designed by Nilo Rodis of ILM and was first featured in "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock" as the ship of the Klingon villain Kruge. In an early draft of the script Kruge was intended to steal the ship from the Romulans, which explains its name and appearance (inspired by the Romulan Bird-of-Prey from TOS: "Balance of Terror") as well as the fact that the ship is equipped with a cloaking device. The Romulan reference was dropped in the final version, probably to simplify the story. The plausible explanation for the Romulan-Klingon technology transfer (Klingon D7 battlecruisers for the Romulans and in exchange Romulan cloaking devices for the Klingons) is that they formed an alliance in the 2260's, although it was never mentioned in any episode or movie.

Ex-Astris Scientia: The Bird-of-Prey Size Paradox

Out-of-Universe

As to why the Romulan Bird-of-Prey has such a unique look, this was largely as a result of form following function. The makers wanted the ship to have a raptor-like look and a distinct bird-of-prey pattern on the underside. The shape of the ship was designed around the pattern (a Romulan warbird), hence its large body and protruding wings.

The Romulan Bird of Prey was designed by Wah Ming Chang in just two weeks’ time. He also built a small model of the ship although it isn’t clear if this was the same as the internally lit studio model that was sent to Film Effects of Hollywood -- where the footage was shot and used in The Original Series episodes “Balance of Terror” and “The Deadly Years.”

FORGOTTEN TREK: Creating the Romulan Bird of Prey

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