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Can Chickens Fly?

Chickens might have feathers and wings, and be able to run and flap and get a little air, but the answer to the question Can chickens fly? is No.

I get asked a lot of questions week in and week out, but one of more common is "Can Chickens Fly?"  And despite the fact that they are birds and have feathers and wings, the answer is no.

Adult, standard breed domestic chickens can't fly. There's no worry that your flock of backyard chickens are going to fly away if you don't feed them enough yummy treats.

They won't migrate to Florida when it gets cold (although I do have to say we see far more airborne chickens in the winter than the summer!)

At most, they might be able to clear the fence in your backyard to nibble on your neighbor's tasty-looking perennials, or fly up into a tree to escape a wandering dog, but in reality they have very little motivation to try to fly - even if they could.

Can Chickens Fly?

Although I couldn't find the original source document to verify this little tidbit, apparently the longest recorded flight of a chicken was 13 seconds in 2014.

The longest recorded distance a chicken has "flown" is 301.5 feet.  Technically, that's not really flying, as in "flying the coop" or flying away.

(Sadly, since I couldn't locate any other information on these alleged record-holding chickens, I don't know what breed holds the record, or if the records are  even held by the same chicken.)

So although they descended from the (presumably) flight-capable jungle fowl, the chickens of today have too large body mass and too short wing spans to achieve the lift needed to truly fly.

And even jungle fowl which are the closest living relative of the present-day chicken and native to India, China and Southeast Asia can fly only short distances.

They aren't "endurance" fliers. Their main purpose in being airborne is to get up into the branches of trees to roost - or to evade capture by predators.>

Burst Flight

Game birds such as jungle fowl, grouse, pheasants and quail use their flight muscles in their wings to take off in a fairly vertical, quick burst of energy (called a "burst flight") mainly to allow them to escape from predators.

Backyard chickens are capable of even smaller and shorter burst flights, having been bred to have larger breasts and more body mass over centuries of domestication.

They will generally only "fly" to escape from danger or clear a fence if the grass looks greener on the other side (or to avoid walking on the "scary white stuff" as those of us who live in places where it snows know all too well!).  

They slowly adapted to living on the ground as their feet got more accustomed to walking, their wings shrunk in size and the learned to peck food from the ground. Nowadays, a chicken uses her wings more to shield and protect baby chicks and keep them warm than to attempt to fly!

Clipping Chicken Wings 

But although chickens technically can't fly, they certainly can clear fences as high as 4-5 feet if they really put their minds to it. Clipping a wing can help prevent that, although I'm not personally a fan of wing clipping.

I think it mars the natural beauty of the chicken, prevents her from being able to escape a predator if need be, and if she can fly out of a pen, that means that not only can aerial predators such as hawks and eagles fly in, but fox, raccoon and other predators can climb over and get in.

So a covered run is your best bet and a far better solution than clipping wings.

And can chickens fly with a clipped wing? Yup, some can still flutter and flop over a fence regardless.

"Flighty" Breeds 

There are some breeds that tend to be more "flighty" than others. These breeds have smaller body mass and include Andalusians, Leghorns, Anconas, Penedesencas, Araucanas and many bantam breeds.

These breeds can manage to fly far up into trees, onto coop or barn roofs, etc. But they're still not going to fly away on you.

In addition, small chicks and pullets do manage to get some air and fly out of brooders and pens before they are fully grown because their wings are larger proportionally than their bodies while they're still growing.

The Non-Fliers

On the flip side, there's no worry about your larger, "full bodied" girls even clearing a low wall. They're not going anywhere if it doesn't involve walking!

You can greatly reduce the likelihood of your chickens getting out of your chicken run or backyard by focusing on heavy breeds with calm personalities.
Breeds such as Orpingtons, Brahmas, Cochins and the like, tend to be heavier and calmer. 
And by providing your chickens a relatively stress-free environment, plenty to eat and nibble on, and adequate space, they shouldn't be tempted to "fly the coop" so to speak!

For more tips on keeping your chickens out of your garden, look for a copy of Gardening with Chickens: Plans and Plants for you and your Hens at bookstores and garden shops nationwide.

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