Can Chickens Fly? Everything You Want To Know

Some chickens can and do fly!

Whether it is a wing flap, hop, or a full blown flight they can do it.

However even those breeds that can fly will not win any Olympic medals for style or distance.

Their flights are extremely limited in distance and time, so you really do not have to worry about them flying off to greener pastures.

The biggest danger with inquisitive chickens that fly is that they will get lost. They may fly too far and not know how to get back and the end for such birds is not usually a happy one…

A Rooster Flying

Can Chickens Actually Fly?

Most chickens cannot fly very far. Most can fly just enough to get over a fence or escape from predators.

As for how high they can fly, most will only be able to climb into trees around 10-15 feet high.

The world record for a chicken flight is 301.5 feet and was set back in 2014.

They cannot out-fly a winged predator unless they find some deep cover to hide in.

Some chickens (bantams and Breda fowl) can escape a dangerous situation by using a burst flight. This is where they seem to be standing on the spot and then suddenly burst upward and away from danger.

This type of escape is common to game birds such as grouse and pheasants. Apparently even prehistoric birds used this tactic.

Most chickens will only fly for a few seconds before crashing back down to earth!

If you watch the flight of this chicken in slow motion you will see that it is hard for them to get any lift under the wings and the landing is more of a controlled crash than anything else.

Fun Facts About Chickens Flying

  1. The furthest distance attained was 301.5 feet in 2014.
  2. In terms of time the longest flight was only 13 seconds.
  3. While there is no record of the highest a chicken has ever flown, some breeds can easily fly up 30 feet or more to reach the top of a house or barn.
  4. They will fly at around 10mph.
  5. Silkies are the only breed that cannot fly at all.

The History Of Chickens And Flying

Chicken Taking Off

Thousands of years ago humans captured and caged wild jungle fowl with the intention of using them for cock fighting, ceremonies and food.

Back then food was the most important need and bones from domesticated chickens have been dated to 7,400 years ago. These bones were discovered in a province of China but there have been some finds from India that are at least 5,000 years old.

Even before domestication wild jungle fowl did not fly well. They could fly up into the lower tree or bush branches away from danger and slightly higher for roosting purposes.

They did not really have to worry too much about flying away from aerial predators since they usually lived in the jungle with a dense canopy they could use for shelter.

Over the years wild jungle fowl were domesticated further and people even started breeding them to create some of the beautiful breeds we know today.

These new breeds lived in relative harmony with humans so their need to fly diminished. As they were bred further their ability to fly also diminished.

As humans continued to selectively cross breed chickens for increased egg production or meat, the wing to weight ratio slowly changed too. This led to a huge decrease in ability to fly which is seen in many of our larger breeds today.

Most of the larger breeds we know and love today are too heavy to fly – instead we see short hop flights.

However some of the less popular ancient and heritage breeds can still fly.

For instance the La Flèche can fly as well as their wild jungle fowl ancestors.

Which Breeds Fly The Best?

The best flyers are active breeds that have not been heavily selectively bred. As a result they still retain the flying ability of their ancestors.

Some of the most active breeds come from Mediterranean countries. These birds have a slimmer body so their wings can hold up their weight more efficiently.

Ancona, Andalusian, Campine, Catalana, Leghorn, white faced black Spanish and Sicilian Buttercups are all fairly decent flyers.

Most bantams can fly reasonably well too.

Other breeds that can fly are Fayoumi, Jaerhon, Lakenvelder, Ameraucana, La Fleche, old English Game and Appenzeller Spitzhauben. Some of the hybrid breeds such as Red Stars can also be escape artists if they have the inclination.

Many of these chickens will roost in trees if they are allowed to do so.

Why Do Chickens Fly?

Hybrid Chicken Flying

There are a few reasons why a chicken decides to take flight.

The first and most important reason is to avoid death or injury.

When your chickens see a predator they will keep a close eye on it. If the predator gets too close your chickens will take off and fly.

Some breeds can do a standing start (like a vertical take-off jet), but most will take a few steps or a short run before taking flight.

In this manner they can avoid a predator as long as they can reach something high or covered. The really heavy breeds such as Orpingtons have the distinct disadvantage of being far too heavy for their wings for an easy escape.

Another reason is to climb over an obstacle such as a fence.

Usually they escape their pen because of curiosity – the grass is always greener!

As you know most hens are intensely curious and so a green lush area needs to be investigated.

Also if their pen is overcrowded and your chickens are young and small enough you may find them flying over the top to get some much needed space.

It is not unusual to find your birds in a neighbor’s garden, especially if the yard is nicely tended and has lots of flowers and veggies to munch.

Most of our modern day breeds are easily kept in a run by using a three to four foot fence.

However some of the smaller more flighty birds can easily clear six feet or higher.

With determination and a running start some can clear around 10 feet. Some enterprising chickens have been observed using perches or other items to get them a higher start to their flight.

Finally some chickens fly just because they can!

How To Stop Your Chickens Flying

Chicken Ready To Fly

The best way to stop your chickens flying is to keep them in a covered run.

If you cover their pen with chicken wire or mesh netting it will keep your chickens in and keep predators out. Your cover can be some plastic aviary netting or deer netting over the top of the pen. Both of these items are fairly inexpensive and are certainly worth the money invested.

Just remember if you are keeping them in a run make sure they have enough room and plenty of things to occupy their time – this will help to stop them from thinking about escape.

Also make sure to place some perches higher up for them to use. Around five feet or so will be high enough for them.

If you do not want to keep them in a run and want your chickens to free range your best choice is to clip their wings.

How To Clip Chicken Wings

Clipping a chicken’s wing feathers unbalances them so they cannot get an equal lift to fly.

Remember though this also puts the chicken at a disadvantage should predators get near them.

This video shows you how to properly trim the wings:

A couple of things not mentioned in the video:

  1. Never trim a chicken that is still growing feathers. The feathers must be completely grown out before you cut them. Otherwise you will be cutting through blood quills which will be messy and painful for the bird.
  2. If you are showing or exhibiting your chicken then cutting their wing feathers will get them disqualified.

Summary

Chickens can fly and certain breeds are much better than others.

Silkies cannot fly at all!

If you are fortunate enough to have a large property then flying chickens is not likely to be a huge problem for you. When chickens have plenty of space to roam in they are more content and less inclined to take off.

Smaller properties can be problematic if you have flighty birds.

They may want to check out the neighbors’ yard or the local woods. In this case penning them would probably be the best solution all around but wing clipping can certainly help to keep them in your yard.

Some breeds will still perch and even roost in the trees if allowed to do so.

However this should be discouraged since they are literally sitting targets for owls, hawks and other predators.

Do your chickens love to fly? Let us know in the comments section below…

Chris Lesley Bio Picture
Chris Lesley has been Raising Chickens for over 20 years and is a fourth generation chicken keeper. She can remember being a young child when her grandad first taught her how to hold and care for chickens. She also holds a certificate in Animal Behavior and Welfare and are interested in backyard chicken health and care. Her work has been shared on HuffPost, Mother Nature Network, Community Chickens, Mother Earth News and many more outlets. Today Chris keeps 11 chickens including 4 Buff Orpingtons, 4 Rhode Island Reds and 3 Silkies. She is our backyard chicken expert at Chickens And More, and shares her knowledge on raising healthy, happy chickens with our readers. You can contact Chris at chris@chickensandmore.com

2 Comments

  1. I will tell you which chickens are excellent flyers- the Duckwing Phoenix! They are slim and fly as a matter of course. They were flying around my yard at 8 wks old, one flew up on the roof and roosted there!

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