People have long believed that a domestic chicken is a flightless bird, incapable of taking to the air and soaring through the sky. Though the belief that chickens can't fly is widespread, it is simply not true. Chickens can, and do, fly – sorta – but they don’t do it often, and are unable to support their weight in flight for very long.
If you're curious to learn more, we have you covered! There are a few things you should know about their ability to fly before allowing your chickens to take off. In this article, we will explore everything you need to know about chickens in flight.
Do Chickens Fly?
Yes, chickens can fly, but it doesn’t mean they do it often or do it well.
There's a good chance you have never seen a flying chicken before, and it all comes down to how the domesticated chicken has adapted to farm life. These animals have become ground animals because their food sources are located on the ground all around them. Since there is no reason for a backyard chicken to fly for their food, it is quite normal for chickens to live their entire life without taking flight.
Because chickens graze this way, over time they have been bred to be ground birds. When looking at birds bred for eggs and meat, you can see that the chickens wing has evolved to be unable to support its weight for long periods of time. They also don't have the kind of flight feathers found on flying birds.
This doesn't mean they are completely incapable of flight, though. Flight tendencies can vary based on chicken breed, however, most are capable of minimal, short bursts of flying. In general, heavier chicken breeds are less likely to achieve or attempt flight that lighter breeds.
When and Why Do Chickens Fly?
One of the most common questions about chicken flight is when they do it, and why. Most people have never seen chickens flying before, but with careful observation and in the right scenario, you may catch them in action.
Chickens typically take to the skies during these scenarios:
When They Become Startled
When startled, chickens may take flight for a short distance to escape, an instinct that keeps them safe from predators. Chickens can typically make it over a standard fence and may even perch on top of a roof, in a tree, or on a low branch.
Anyone with experience in keeping domestic chickens knows it's common for chickens to take off over a short fence or neighboring yard on occasion. This is why a chicken keeper will do well to surround their coop with chicken wire or tall fencing, to keep them contained.
When They Are Roosting for The Night
Chickens will sometimes take flight when they are roosting for the night, to stay safe while sleeping. They will do it to reach a high space in the coop or even settle in a nearby safe space like a tree.
If you notice your chicken is routinely seeking a higher space to roost, consider supplying them with a perch or area that is elevated for them to enjoy roosting in. Sometimes, chickens do not feel secure roosting on the ground and they may innately seek an above-ground option.
When They Are Hungry
If the food available to your chickens while they free range is inadequate or scarce, they may resort to short bursts of flight into neighboring spaces in search of food.
Chickens typically graze around their roaming area, as most chicken breeds are free-range birds. If you have a large flock of chickens and not enough food, it can lead to underfed birds that need to seek out better options. Backyard chicken owners who don't provide enough grazing space may also struggle with chickens seeking more space to roam and find food.
There are also some cases where chickens fly just for the sake of flying. Like all animals, the modern chicken will have its own unique behavior and personality. If you're a chicken owner with a chicken who routinely takes flight, so long as she is safe, there's no need to worry. It could just be one of your chicken's quirks.
This curiosity and urge to explore can also pop up in baby chicks, who can also fly. Typically, after they are about a week old, chicks may attempt to fly in their enclosure. While this is normal behavior, your baby chick could easily become injured, so ensure you’re keeping a close eye on them.
Overall, no matter the age of your chicken, they will very likely be earthbound unless they are hungry, inadequately fed, startled, or seeking a better space to roost.
How Do Chickens Fly?
As we touched on above, chickens are a heavy breed of bird and aren't built to fly for long periods of time. However, they can still do it in bursts, thanks to their anatomy.
Chickens are able to fly because of their unique wing structure. Chickens have shorter wings relative to their body size than other birds, which gives them a higher wing loading - meaning that there is more weight per square inch of the wing. This increased weight makes it harder for chickens to get airborne, but once they are in the air, their wings allow them to flap faster and generate more lift.
Chickens are capable of something called “burst flight.” Burst flight means that chickens are capable of taking off very rapidly on a near-vertical incline. As this is an unconventional flight method, chickens usually only fly when they absolutely must, such as when a threat is present or when they need to roost. At times, chickens will be inclined to burst flight over a fence or onto a low roof, but that’s only if they’re particularly adventurous.
To sum it up, chickens may not be able to fly far, or extremely high, because of their heavy weight. Their flight methods might not be a graceful or easy experience for them when compared to lighter breeds of birds, but, for the little flight ability they do have, they can fly pretty fast!
Keeping Your Chickens Safe
Now that we know when and how chickens fly, let's talk about what you can do to prevent them from getting into tough or dangerous situations.
While it is difficult to control the behavior of an animal, in many cases, chickens are flying for a set reason. You could consider taking the following steps to prevent your chickens from flying and getting caught in tough spots.
Wing Clipping (Video)
If you have a chicken who seems to enjoy flying (and escaping doing it) you can consider wing clipping. This is a process where you will shorten your bird's flight feathers. This is not a cruel process, and for many farmers is a key part of chicken care.
To clip a chicken's wings simply trim the primary feathers (the longest feathers) on both sides of the wing. This will give the chicken enough lift to take off, but not enough to sustain flight for long periods of time.
Clipping your chicken's wings is similar to how you would trim human hair or fingernails. Be gentle and patient, but know that so long as you’re clipping only the long feathers, you will not harm them. Your chicken may be a bit alarmed by this process, but it is painless.
It is important to note that even with clipped wings, your chickens may still be able to become airborne. This depends on the determination of the chicken, as well as the environment (for example, if your chicken is startled). However, your chicken won’t be able to fly higher than a few meters, as their wings will be short.
Here is a short video demonstrating exactly how to do it.
Rescuing a Chicken
If you have a chicken that has flown onto a roof or tree and is now roosting out of reach, don't worry - there are ways to lure them down.
Chickens are attracted to food, so one way to get them down is by placing food at the base of the tree or area where they are stuck. Give them some time to assess the situation, but ultimately, they will become hungry eventually and descend.
Chickens also startle easily, so you can also try gently shaking the branches or clapping your hands to make noise. This should encourage your chicken to come down on its own and find a safer place to roost.
There you have it! Though many believe it not to be true, you now know that chickens do, indeed, fly from time to time.
If you have chickens, it's important to take precautions to prevent them from taking flight so they don't get themselves in danger. If you notice a chicken is taking flight repetitively, assess their surroundings to ensure they have enough food and are not becoming startled. Also double-check that they have a comfortable space to roost at night.
Remember, even the happiest chicken may just have an urge to fly from time to time. Chickens are all unique with their own quirks, which may include a need for escapism.
With a little bit of care and knowledge, though, you can keep your chickens safe and sound on the ground!
Learn More About Chickens:
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- 15 Surprising Benefits Of Backyard Chickens
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