Can Chickens Fly?

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Can chickens fly?

Yes. Most chickens can fly but not far. I have around 300 chickens across 22 different breeds at the moment and some will whilst some won't. They fly to escape predators, roost at night and to make their foraging easier. All chickens except the naked necks have a full complement of feathers and most will use them at some point. Silkies are the only chicken that can not fly, they are missing the stiff quills in the middle of their feathers.

A chicken will generally only fly to a point it can see clearly like a branch or the top of a fence post. They also tend to fly up to a perch and then fly down rather than doing the whole thing in one go.

Some Chicken Flying Facts: The longest recorded flight of a chicken was 13 seconds and the furthest recorded distance was 301.5 feet. Chickens are agile can run at 9 to 10 mph.

Chickens on a coop roof

This chicken flew happily on to her coop roof.

As you know chicks grow in their primary flight feathers somewhere after 3 weeks depending on the breed. Some chicken breeds feather up faster than others.

I have had many a laugh watching my chicks first flights as they try out their little wings, most of which end in a heap of feathers or a tumble along the ground. It is all part of their learning process for later in life.

They can and will perform bursts of high intensity short range flights into the trees, or to avoid local squabbles or if startled or to arrive at the food trough first. 

Why chickens fly in the wild.

It's a survival thing. Our modern domesticated birds come from the wild jungle fowl of Asia and in the wild it is completely natural for them to fly. But not far as they live in a forest and the need is to be ale to fly into a tree.

So chickens can fly. Not very high or far, but they do fly. They don't get much practice and are selectively bred for other qualities like eggs and meat. You would not have hens in your backyard if they only laid 40 eggs a year and escaped every time you let them out.

Chickens, guinea fowl and turkeys are all members of the large group of gallinaceous birds (order galliformes). Gallinaceous birds are mostly ground-dwelling and take to the air only to evade predators or other dangers.

All modern chickens are descended from jungle fowl which are a forest dwelling bird. The need to escape a predator by flying to the nearest tree or from one tree to another is what has driven their evolution.

Chickens, turkeys and guinea's will roost for the night in trees or other elevated places high above the ground and safe from most ground based predators. In the evening as it gets dark they will fly from the ground up to their night-time resting places. There is quite a lot of flapping about and moving around before the settle into their perch for the night.

Staying on the ground would be far too dangerous. 

Are chickens good flyers?

No. not good flyers at all. So what makes the chicken such a poor flyer

1. Their body - They are round and the wings are set quite high. This is and adaptation to give long powerful beats to get them off the ground quickly. The cost is streamlining and stamina.

2. Wingspan and weight - A Barnevelder hen weighs in at 6 to 7 pounds and the rooster 8 to 10 pounds but chickens of this breed have a wingspan of 3 feet. This gives them a very high wing loading as they have a high body weight to wing surface area ratio. Compare to a bird like a hawk which has a body weight of around 3 pounds but a wing span in excess of 4 feet.

3. The eyes - the really good flyers in the bird world have eyes forward on their heads. Think owls and the like. Chickens have eyes on the sides of their heads. Good for all round vision and looking for predators but a bit crap for flying. This is  why chickens often crash to the ground with heavy bump rather than graceful landing.

4. Ancestry - Chickens were bred from a wild species call the red jungle fowl which were somewhat better filers than the modern bird. Their food is on the ground and the eyes and beak have adapted to match. Their feet are adapted for walking and perching. 

5. Selective breeding - Humans have been tinkering with the chicken for hundreds of years. modern breeds are not a natural. They were created by selective breeding the red jungle fowl  to bring out or accentuate desired characteristics. This is artificial selection natural selection as they underwent in the wild. Chickens have been selected for egg or meat production and not their ability to survive. 

The flapping climb:

Most chicken keepers with and escape specialist in their flock have seen this one. It consists of flapping walk up the chain link fence to the top and they can accomplish this even with a clipped wing. 

Why Do Chickens Fly?

Predators - Startling a chicken will see it leaping into the air in a flurry of flapping to see it escape.

Curiosity - The grass is always greener and belongs to a neighbour. Hens are intensely curious creatures and love to investigate new things especially if it might be food dust bath related.

Determination - Some are just more stubborn than others 

A mate - Rooster getting after hens.  I struggle with this one alot when I pen up my birds for breeding.

Snow - My chickens dislike snow and it upsets them. You get a lot of clucking and then a flight to the feeder

Avoidance - Avoiding fights and confrontations.


Do some breeds fly better than others?

Most breeds can, but not all choose to. The ability of a chicken to fly is usually determined by their breed type and their own personal preference. Some prefer it more than others and some are just too heavy ever to get their bodies off the ground.

Bantams are the best flyers. My German bush fowl are always roosting in trees rather than join others in the hen house at night.

Lighter bodied breeds like Araucanas and Vorwerks are good flyers, and some just seem to enjoy flying, or at least trying to.

Heavy breeds such as Orpingtons and Wyandottes hens may fly about a foot off the ground for a very short distance but their wings cannot give them the lift power needed for the size of the hens body.

If you have ever stood a distance from your birds and offered treats, you will have seen the heavier breeds covering the ground With an excited flapping run, wobbling about madly in the rush to see what interesting treats you have.

It’s the Mediterranean breeds like Ancona's and Leghorns that tend to be known as flighty birds. They have harder feathers, are more streamlined and lighter. 

How far Can they fly?

Domestic chickens are not't good flyers - their body weight is too heavy for their wings to carry them any distance. They tend to do a kind of hop and flap motion which is not in the slightest elegant or graceful. 

I have seen mine cover 100 yards down the field to see what I have for them but that field slopes downward giving them he advantage of a higher start. 

How high can chickens fly?


My Chickens are very sociable and happy to see me as I generally have food for them. They get excited and fly down the field to see me in the morning. They will all try to be first especially if there is feed involved.

chickenon a six foot high perch

These birds are roosting around 8 foot in a shed.

So I have personal experience of them flying up to ten or fifteen feet high when they really want to get somewhere.

Not all are that energetic, though, and the heavier breeds won't be able to get anything like that high.  My Light and Speckled Sussex, Marans and Wyandottes don't bother trying to fly at all - but my bantams love to roost as high as possible.

But for those breeds that like to fly, four feet is easy for them. Six is getting more difficult but still very possible, even for the medium sized birds.

The Italian livonese is small, white and looks a bit like a large dove but with a red crest. They were typically kept in vineyards and orchards where they could sleep on branches. 


At what age can chickens fly?

They start flapping their wings from a few days old and from around 3 weeks of age the chicks begin to develop wing feathers. As the chicks are small and light they can cover some quite large distances and can easily get on top of cupboards and the like. 

Below is a barnevelder chick perching two foot up on a box edge.

barnevelder chick perching

Depending on the breed the flight feathers - the long feathers on the leading edge of the wing - start growing at day three or four after hatching and are fully developed by the age of between five and ten weeks.


What flying chickens means for you.

If you live in a town and have a few hens in your back yard, your neighbours might not be terribly pleased that their lovely green lawn is being raked over by your marauding flock.

Hens are ruthless when it comes to grass - they can clear a patch in minutes! And neighbours definitely won't be pleased that your girls have chomped down on their veggie patch, or used their lovely summer flower pots as dust-baths.


Are fences chicken proof when it comes to flying? 

Nope. Very high fences are more difficult for heavier breeds, but lighter breeds and bantams will fly over fences with no problem.

chicken flying over a five foot fence

In fact, some of my own girls flew over our six foot high fence even after they'd had one wing clipped. Everything I'd read said they should not be able to fly with one wing clipped. I didn't know how they were doing it until I sat and watched them.

They hopped onto a branch on a small willow tree I had in the run and the flew to the top of a six foot fence post.

I would add  that once the chicken is in the tree they are glide quite well and they’re funny to watch. It takes a huge amount of effort for them to move their heavy bodies with short round wings, but gliding they do well.


Can roosters fly?

Yes and normally better than the hens of the same breed. Cockerels do it to show off, tend to be more muscly and have the benefit of testosterone in their system. They also have more reason if there are ladies on the other side of the fence.

seabright bantams are good flyers

This Seabright cockerel is a very good flyer and has a thing for the ladies, any and all he can get to.

 

Any chickens that cannot fly?

Commercial meat chickens have been so selectively bred for their size and fast growth that they have almost lost the ability to stand, let alone fly.  This is a la Bresse meat bird from France. They are heavy and well built and struggle to get themselves off the ground at all.

Young la bresse grower

My silkie bantams can not fly at all being limited to powered hops. They do enjoy the exercise though and will happily flap about.

My Polish hens can but can't see much through the crest so choose not to. They are also haughty and think flying is vulgar.

My Orpingtons choose to stay on the ground and need steps to get to high perches for roosting.

I was quite surprised at this cream crested legbar, as she was a large breed of about 7 lbs. She made it happily 12 foot up to the first branch and then up a few more branches into the top of the tree.

seramas are not good flyers

My tiny Seramas are sleek and bred for their shape and I have seen them get 12 feet into the air over distances of about 20 feet. 


What can you do to stop chickens flying?

How to stop chickens flying. If you are a keeper lighter bodied hens like leghorns you might find the odd one roosting quite happily in a tree. It is the remnants of that inherited instinct to roost up high. 

Escapees cause problems. Unhappy neighbours, plants and vegetable gardens destroyed. Your chickens putting themselves at risk of attack from the waiting mouths of predators, the neighbours Labrador or eating something poisonous.


How to Trim Chicken’s Feathers

Trimming the large Primary flight feathers is one way to try and limit the flying ability of your chicken. Cut them down in and arc to within and inch and a half of the wing on one side only. this unbalances the bird as it tries to take flight

It doesn't always work, some really determined hens have proven to their owners that they can still fly despite wing trimming and some get used to the disability you inflicted on them.

Wing trimming is a personal thing. Some folks don’t believe in it, others swear by it. My flock is free range so I prefer them to be able to take to the skies if they need to. There is always one that doesn't like being confined to the breeding pens and needs its feathers clipping.

The usual trimming involves the primary flight feathers only and seems to work well as a deterrent for most birds. You can trim the whole wing for a persistent offender.

Wing trimming is not a permanent solution as the bird moults every year and the new feathers that grow in will need to be trimmed again.

It is important to remember that when you trim the adult feathers you are cutting through hollow quills. If you cut emerging pin feathers after the moult you will cause pain and bleeding.
 

Brailing

This technique is controversial and i have never used it and nor do I intend to but if you have exhibition birds, wing trimming will disqualify them from showing. There is a second technique to prevent chickens from flying, brailing.

Brailing involves wrapping or binding one wing with some material so that the wing cannot be opened and used for flight. It is important ensure the binding is not too tight and constricts the blood flow and secondly, switch the brail from  one wing to the other every few days or so.

Placing a restrictive device on the wing can cause injury or disability if done improperly and make them susceptible to predation.

If you have exhibition birds that like to fly, brailing may be the answer but it is probably easier to cover your run.

This is almost certainly illegal in the UK and Europe as it interferes with the 5 freedoms that chickens are entitled to in law.


Summary

So yes, Chickens can fly and each individual is likely to be different. I have some that never fly anywhere and other that struggle to stay on the ground.

Some will continue to try no matter how you try to contain them it’s the wild jungle fowl genes coming out and the only truly effective way to keep them contained is a covered run area or a fence so high that it is impossible to get over.

If you keep only heavier breeds in a well secured area, you are unlikely to have many problems with your ladies wandering across to the neighbours.

If you have ‘flighty’ breeds, I’m sure you might have already had them trying to escape.