You probably have heard people say more than once that chickens can’t fly but is that true? Are all chickens incapable of flight or are there some that can fly? And if some chickens can fly, do you need to worry about your flock of chickens escaping?
You can find the answer to all these questions and more in this article. We will explore the truth about chickens’ flying capabilities, what affects their ability to fly, and which breeds are the best at chicken-style flying. So continue reading to have your questions about chickens and flying answered.
Are Chickens Capable of Flying?
Despite the common belief that chickens can’t fly, the truth is that most of them actually can. However, they are not able to fly very high or very far. The most many chicken breeds can manage is a short burst to escape predators to a higher position.
You will find more details about the characteristics that affect the ability of chickens to fly a little later in the article but the main reason is the size of their bodies compared to their wingspan. Because of their body mass and short wingspans, they fail to get the lift to truly fly.
History of the Domestic Chickens
Most of the bones that historians believe belonged to domesticated chickens date back to India and China around 5,000 years ago. However, it is possible that the first chickens were domesticated approximately 7,4000 years ago.
Before they were domesticated, the ancestor of the modern chicken, the jungle fowl had moderate flying abilities. They would hide in the undergrowth and use short bursts of flight to escape their predators and roost in trees during the night.
When people domesticated the ancestorial chickens, they also began selective breeding to achieve qualities that were useful to them. For example, they preferred hens that were better at laying eggs or produced more meat.
As a result, the ability to fly was further diminished in many chicken breeds. While the heavier breeds are the least likely to fly, heritage and ancient breeds are most likely to have retained better flying abilities.
Why Chickens Are Not Good Fliers
There is a range of reasons why most domestic chickens are not capable of flying more than in short bursts.
Their Body Size
Chickens have round bodies and their wings are located higher on their muscular backs. This is why they can get off the ground quickly but not stay in the air for long. Their wings can lift their body off the ground for long enough to clear fences or branches or land on roofs.
Their Wingspan Compared to Their Weight
Chickens are not capable of long flights or soaring high up in the sky because of their short wings compared to their weight. For example, chickens from the Barnvelder breed weigh approximately six to seven pounds but only have a wingspan of three feet.
In contrast, the bald eagle weighs between six and fourteen pounds and has a wingspan of six or seven feet, while a hawk weighs around three pounds, and its wings from tip to tip measure four to five feet. From the comparisons, it is easy to see that chickens do not have the weight-to-wing ratio to sustain flight.
The chickens’ eyes also affect their ability to fly. Because they have eyes on the sides of the head rather than forward-facing eyes, they cannot see ahead well enough to sustain longer flights. Their eye position is also a sign that they are prey rather than predatory birds.
Chicken Flight Facts
Some chicken species can fly short distances, while others can only fly a few feet vertically. For example, Sumatran chickens have been known to fly from one island to another but the heavy, egg-laying bird Orpington can burst fly only up to six feet.
Why Chicken Fly
One of the main reasons why chickens fly is to escape from danger. When they sense a predator, they can burst into flight to land on a higher, safer spot. Sometimes chickens can also fly because they are excited, for example, when they see you approach in the morning and know it is feeding time.
Some chickens will also fly because of their curiosity and hope for more food. This can lead them to investigate new areas, often on the wrong side of the chicken yard fence or in the neighbor’s garden.
Can Chicken Fly Fast?
Because of their body shape and inadequate wings, chickens are predictably not the fastest fliers among different species of birds. The top speeds recorded for chickens range from seven to twelve miles per hour. However, they are surprisingly fast runners with some species reaching speeds of ten miles per hour.
Are Chickens Capable of a Longer Flight?
Chickens, even the smaller and lighter breeds, are not able to stay in the air for long periods. According to some sources, the longest recorded flight for a modern, domestic chicken is thirteen seconds in which time it covered just over 300 feet.
How High Can Chickens Fly?
For any chicken owner, this is probably one of the most important questions. Can chickens fly high enough to escape their coop? Some chicken breeds definitely can and most can clear regular height fences using burst flight.
The lighter breeds are more likely to clear higher obstacles. For example, bantams have been known to clear six-foot-tall fences. Others can use their burst flight to leap around ten feet into the air. However, no chicken breed is capable of high-altitude flights.
Should You Stop Chickens From Flying?
In most cases, it is advisable to stop your chickens from flying. For example, if your chickens can clear the fence surrounding their coop, they could land themselves in danger from predators. If you would like to stop your chicken from flying, here are some options for you.
Clipping Their Wings
One way to stop your chickens from flying is to clip their wings. This involves clipping, or trimming, the chicken’s feathers to reduce its ability to fly far, yet not too much to stop it from bursting into flight if it needs to escape predators.
While it may sound cruel, clipping the wings of a chicken doesn’t hurt it. Some have compared it to cutting your nails. It is also not permanent with the feathers growing back when the chickens molt.
You should never clip wings when the chickens are still growing. Only clip them when the feathers are fully grown or you may clip blood quills, which will cause the chicken pain. You can watch this video to learn how to clip wings correctly.
Brailing Their Wings
Another way you can reduce the flight ability of chickens is wing brailing. This method is not as popular as clipping their wings, but it works as well. The method involves strapping a cord on the chicken’s wing to unbalance it and stop it from flying.
A key thing to remember is to change the brail cord to the other wing every week. This will prevent permanently damaging the bound wing.
Build a Higher Fence or Cover The Chicken Run
If you are not keen on the idea of clipping or brailing the wings, then you have a third option. This option involves either building a higher fence or covering up the chicken run completely. Observe how high your chickens can reach during burst flight and choose the new height accordingly.
Alternatively, you can cover up the enclosure. You can use, for example, a tarp or mesh to create a roof for the chicken run. Some breeds may still try to fly within the run, but others are unlikely to even notice their habitat has been covered.
Choose Breeds That Are Less Likely to Fly
You can also prevent your chickens from escaping their safe coop by choosing breeds that are not likely to fly high. Avoid breeds that are slimmer and smaller as they will be more efficient in generating light by flapping their wings and breeds that retain more traits from the wild jungle fowl.
Some breeds to avoid include the Ancona, Araucana, Catalana, Hamburg, Leghorn, and Sumatra. On the other hand, breeds that are known as bad fliers because of their small wings and large bodies include Brahma, Orpington, Dominique, silkie, and Wyandotte.
How Old Are Chickens When They Start to Fly?
Chicks will start to develop wing feathers when they are only a few days old. When they are still young, they are lighter, which is perfect for experimenting with flying. The flight feathers, which are the long feathers on the edge of the wing, begin growing on day three or four after hatching, depending on the breed.
So despite the popular belief that chickens cannot fly, most chicken breeds are capable of some level of flying. While heavy breeds can only fly up to around six feet, lighter breeds have been known to clear ten-foot fences.
If you keep backyard chickens, it may be necessary to take steps to reduce their ability to fly out of their coop and put themselves in reach of predators such as foxes or badgers.
We hope you have found all the answers you needed but if there is anything else you would like to ask, write your question in the comments area.