Have you ever seen a chicken perched on a tree branch or a rooftop and wondered how they had gotten there? They have wings, but can chickens fly? The answer is yes. Chickens can indeed flap and fly, albeit they are not going to get very far. In the past, chickens may have been able to fly farther and higher, but evolution and selective breeding has changed their abilities. Today, you are going to learn everything you need to know on chicken flight, including how far and high they can go.
Can Chickens Fly?
Yes, most chickens can fly. The thing is that they cannot fly very far. Most of the time, chickens are flying to get away from predators or to find a cozy place to roost for the night. Interestingly, some chickens, including bantam breeds, can use something called “burst flight,” which is where they can simply be standing in one spot and then jolt into the air to escape danger.
Many game birds, including pheasants and grouse, also utilize burst flight.
It is believed that chickens were first domesticated around 7,400 years ago, but most bones from China and India date back to 5,000 years ago.
Prior to domestication, the wild jungle fowl from which the modern chicken evolved had meager flying abilities. These birds were used to hiding in the underbrush, though they would use burst flying to get away from predators. They would roost upon tree branches during the night, never needing to worry about the nocturnal hunters down below.
Then humans started selectively breeding chickens to suit specific demands or to give these birds a unique look. As such, the flying trait was diminished as others, like egg laying, were favored. Generally, the heavier the breed, the less it can fly. That is why heritage or ancient chicken breeds retain much of their flying abilities, while others do not.
Are Chickens Good at Flying?
Here is a fun fact for you: the longest recorded distance of a chicken in flight was 301.5 feet. Another record states that a chicken was able to fly for a full 13 seconds.
That said, chickens, in general, are not very good at flying. Some breeds excel, but they can never soar like an eagle or even glide for long periods of time. Chickens fly in short bursts, gaining altitude before coming back down.
Characteristics that Affect a Chicken’s Ability to Fly
Here is a look at some qualities that keep chickens grounded:
- Body – Chickens evolved to get off the ground more quickly. This is why their bodies are round, their wings are higher up on their backs, and their backs are muscular. A couple powerful flaps of the wings, and they are clearing branches, fences, and roofs with ease.
- Weight and wingspan – Although chickens are made for burst flight—gaining vertical height rapidly—they are not designed for soaring. Their wingspan does not allow it. Take, for instance, the Barnvelder. A hen weighs around 6-7 pounds and has a wingspan of 3 feet. That is not enough wing surface area to promote long periods of flight. Compare that to a hawk which weighs 3 pounds but has a wingspan of 4-5 feet.
- Ancestry – The jungle fowl from which chickens evolved was designed for seeking out food on the ground. That is why their beaks, eyes, and feet are designed for foraging, not hunting from the skies.
- Eyes – Chickens do not have forward-facing eyes like eagles, hawks, and owls. Being that their eyes are on the sides of their head (a sign that they are often the prey, not the predator), they cannot see well enough ahead of them for sustained flight. This is also part of the reason chickens do not land gracefully but more or less crash onto the ground after gliding over a fence or down from a roof.
- Selective breeding – Modern chicken breeds were created by people for eggs and meat, not for survivability. As such, chickens have lost some of the capabilities that helped them endure out in the wild.
How Far Can Chickens Fly?
Have you ever seen a chicken fly? It’s a clumsy affair. They are not graceful like hawks or ospreys or even geese. Therefore, it is safe to assume that they cannot get very far. Remember, the longest duration of a chicken in flight was a mere 13 seconds and went about 300 feet. That is nothing compared to a hawk or eagle that stays aloft for hours.
But it is still a bit impressive.
So, it’s not a question of how far chickens can go when in flight. The better question to ask is how high. You see, chickens fly to escape things or to get out of someplace where they are trapped, like their run.
It is not uncommon for chickens to beat their wings, burst into the air, and then land on the closest thing nearby. They are more like rocket ships blasting straight up rather than planes. Because of this, chickens can clear rooftops or get into the canopies of trees.
Getting them back down? Well, that’s a whole other quandary.
Can Chickens Fly Over Fences?
Yes, chickens can fly over fencing. Heavier breeds do not have a chance at getting over anything higher than their coop perch, but the lighter ones do. Many new chicken owners will select bantam chickens thinking that their small size will keep them out of trouble. Then they wake up one morning to find that the whole flock has gotten over the 6-foot tall fence and is roaming the yard.
Burst flight enables some more powerful breeds of chicken to “leap” over 10 feet into the air.
There are also some anecdotes of people watching their chickens with clipped wings troubleshooting ways to get over the fence. They may hop onto a lower pedestal or branch first then rocket up and over the fence, madly flapping, and then crash landing on the opposite side. Make no mistake: Your chickens will get over the fence. Either out of stubbornness or sheer determination, they can make it.
How to Stop Chickens From Flying and Escaping
In most situations, impeding your chicken’s flight is the smart choice. In more suburban settings, preventing a chicken from flying away means keeping them away from dangers, like the next door neighbor’s dog. If you live somewhere with natural predators roaming around, such as bobcats and coyotes, you may decide that letting your chickens fly is the least of your worries. Here are a couple of ways to restrict flight that you can consider:
Covering the Chicken Run
One way to prevent your chickens from flapping their wings and escaping is to cover their enclosure completely. Putting a tarp, mesh, roof, or some other obstacle over the top of the chicken run will keep them from flying over the fence. Your chickens will still try to fly around within the run, depending on their breed and their personality. Most chickens will not even notice that the top of the coop has been covered.
Optionally, if you cannot or do not want to cover the enclosure, you can increase the fence height. Observe your chickens to see how high they can go and remove any “help” for them to clear the fence before making the enclosure higher.
Wing Clipping or Trimming
Another method for disabling flight is to trim the chicken’s wings. Now, this may sound cruel, but it is not. This is not the same as clipping the wings of a parrot to keep them from flying forever or declawing a cat. Trimming a chicken’s feathers is temporary, as the flight feathers will grow back during their next molting.
Wing trimming essentially hobbles a chicken’s ability to fly far while still giving them enough freedom to burst up and away from predators, when necessary.
Here is a video on how to trim a chicken’s wings:
A couple of things to keep in mind should you plan on trimming a chicken’s wings:
- Do not clip or trim a chicken’s wings if you plan on entering them into a show or exhibit, as they will be disqualified.
- Never trim feathers when they are still growing. The feathers have to be completely grown. Otherwise, you could mistakenly clip the blood quills, which could leave your chicken in terrible pain.
The third option is called brailing, and it is when you strap a cord to one wing, unbalancing the bird so it cannot fly. Brailing is not as popular as wing trimming, but it does the trick. You start with younger birds and swap the brail cord every week to prevent permanent injury to the bound wing.
Here is a short video explaining how it is done on pheasants (though it works on chickens, too):
Which Chicken Breeds Can Fly?
Most breeds of chicken have some flying ability, though it may not be very good. However, some breeds, particularly those that have not been selectively bred for certain traits, tend to retain some of their jungle fowl lineage. Active breeds from Europe, particularly the Mediterranean region, are decent at flying. These breeds tend to be smaller and slimmer, giving them more efficiency when it comes to flapping their wings and generating lift.
Some examples of chickens that fly well include:
- Appenzeller Spitzhauben
- La Fleche
- Old English Game
- Rhode Island Red
- Sicilian Buttercup
- White Star hybrid
- Most bantam breeds
Which Chicken Breeds Do Not Fly Well?
Worried about your chickens getting away? Or maybe you don’t want to keep them in a covered chicken run all hours of the day? Then it is best to go with chickens who have a below average rating when it comes to their flying abilities. Typically, chickens that are bred for their meat, who have large bodies, small wings, or any kinds of visual obstruction, like a crest, are going to be bad at flying.
Here are some breeds that can barely get off the ground:
- Plymouth Rock
- Transylvanian Naked Neck
- Russian Orloff
- Jersey Giant
Many of the sex-linked hybrids out there, such as the Cinnamon Queen, are capable of flying, but they often choose not to, even when spooked. Therefore, if you are looking for chickens that aren’t going to abscond, consider some hybrids, too.
Final Thoughts on Flying Chickens
Can chickens fly? Indeed they can. Chickens may not be as good at flying as other birds, but they can certainly use their wings to their advantage. While you will not see your chickens roaming the skies alongside eagles and hawks, they can flap their wings and glide for a short span. While there are some breeds that are good at flying, some breeds can barely get off the ground. Keep those breeds in the back of your mind, so you don’t have to worry about chasing down your Houdini chickens.
Valerie has been content writing since 2016 for websites and companies all around the world. A traveler, dancer, martial artist, Valerie loves gathering experiences and wisdom. Her travels have taken her to over 20 countries, and she hopes to see more of the world soon.