Can chickens fly? Many new chicken keepers are worried about their new bird friends flying away. Luckily, domesticated chickens as we know them today can’t fly like other birds.
Chickens have been domesticated for over 8,000 years. In all those years, humans have selectively bred chickens to be heavier so they would have more meat. They also bred for shorter wingspans so they can’t fly away from farms. They might not be able to soar in the sky or fly south for the winter, but chickens can fly a little bit.
The chicken’s closest wild ancestor is thought to be the red junglefowl native to southeast Asia. The red junglefowl is significantly smaller (about 2-3 pounds vs 7-10 pounds for a standard breed chicken). Junglefowl can fly short distances but is still primarily a ground-foraging bird that relies more on thick brush cover and camouflage to avoid predators.
How far can a chicken fly?
With their heavy bodies and their short wings chickens are not great fliers. I would say they are gliders more than fliers.
Lifting off from the ground like other birds is difficult for chickens. But if they hop up on a roost, bush, or fence they can take off and glide for 30-50 feet. With a running start, many chickens can get 3-4 feet high taking off from the ground to reach a low branch or fence top. Small breed chickens might even be able to get 8-10 feet off the ground.
This means in theory some chickens will be able to escape over a standard 6-foot privacy fence. In practice, most chickens enjoy the free treats and safe shelter that comes from living with humans. They are unlikely to leave their flock and food behind unless they are chased by a predator or are extra curious.
Which chicken breeds can fly?
Smaller bantam breed chickens have the best chance at flying and could definitely escape over a 4 foot fence if motivated. Of the standard-size chicken breeds, the leaner and more muscular the chicken, the more likely they are to fly. Some breeds known to be escape artists include Araucana, Easter Eggers, Yokohamas, Spitzhaubens, and Leghorns. Young chickens that are not yet fully grown are also good fliers. You should keep a close eye on pullets and roos under 18 weeks because these little guys can fly surprisingly high!
The majority of the chickens I have raised are standard size, in dozens of different breeds. I have never had one fly over a 6-foot fence, but I have had a few Easter Eggers that could get over a 4 foot fence. While breed and size play a part in chickens escaping their yard, sometimes personality is just as important. Some birds are just more adventurous! They are more likely to try and fly over a fence if they can see the other side (like a chain link or picket fence). A solid privacy fence gives them little incentive to test their luck on the other side.
What chicken breeds can’t fly?
It’s not surprising that the super heavy breeds like Wyandottes, Cochins, Orpingtons, and Brahmas live most of their lives on the ground. These big guys can realistically only get a foot or two in the air for very short distances.
Silkies are typically a bantam or very small standard size chicken. Even though they are small their odd fur like feathers do not support flight at all. Likewise, Frizzles with their curly feathers can not fly at all.
Clipping a chicken’s wings
The good news is that if you have a chicken escape, they are unlikely to go far. But if you have close neighbors, lots of predators, or live near a busy road, a loose chicken can be in danger or could ruin your neighbor’s landscaping. Seeing one member of the flock escape might also encourage others to fly out to join her.
Clipping a chicken’s wing is a really easy process. It does not hurt them at all, it is just like a haircut. Most of the time it is only necessary to clip one wing. This puts the chicken off balance and makes take-off shakey and unstable. A few chickens are super determined to explore the world and those chickens might need both wings clipped.
When clipping the wing, you only need to trim the primary flight feathers. These full-grown feathers should have hollow quills, with no nerves or blood supply. It is important that you avoid trimming any new feathers or pin feathers as these can bleed when trimmed.
When you extend your chicken’s wing, the primary flight feathers are the really long ones towards the front of the wing. Simply take some sharp scissors and trim! When the chicken tucks their wing back in you can’t even see they have been trimmed.
Clipping your chicken’s wings is not a permanent solution, however. When your chicken molts in the fall they will regrow new flight feathers. Some chickens will only need their wing clipped once though. They get used to being grounded and might not need you to retrim their flight feathers.