Chickens can fly, but not well, not very far, and not very elegantly. It’s rare that you’ll witness anything more graceful from your girls than a frantic flap of the wings paired with scrambled run and jump. They’re just better at eggs than aeronautics.
Chickens are considered flightless birds, and given the scope of their skill set here, I can understand why. That said, they’re not technically flightless like penguins or emus. Chickens can and will fly.
Your chickens aren’t going to fly South for the summer, but depending on their breed and body mass, they may well fly far enough to get them into next door’s garden, and into trouble.
You might not be that interested in the science behind flight feathers and all that mass versus lift malarkey, but you do need to know if your chickens are likely to try their wings at flying. If they can manage even a short burst of flight, you’ll need to know how high, how far, and how to keep them safe and contained.
Let’s navigate the ups and downs of flying chickens: Why do they do it? Why are they so rubbish at it? Just what are the little characters capable of? And - most importantly - what do you need to do about it?
- Can chickens fly?
- Why can’t chickens fly well?
- Can all chickens fly?
- Why do chickens fly?
- Which chickens can fly?
- 15 chicken breeds that can fly:
- Which chickens can’t fly?
- 10 chicken breeds that can’t fly:
- 5 fast flying chicken facts
- How high can chickens fly?
- How far can chickens fly?
- How fast can chickens fly?
- When do chicks learn to fly?
- What do I do when my chickens start to fly?
- Should free range chickens have their wings clipped?
- How tall do my chicken runs walls need to be?
- Will I need a covered run?
- Should I Clip My Chicken’s Wings?
- Does clipping a chicken’s wing hurt?
- Is it cruel to clip my chicken’s wings?
- How to clip a chicken’s wings:
- How often do chickens' wings need clipping?
- Should I clip one or both wings?
- Can I stop my chicken flying without clipping their wings?
- What is brailing?
IS IT A BIRD, IS IT A PLANE, IS IT A…CHICKEN?
…PROBABLY NOT, NO.
Can Chickens Fly?
Chickens can fly. They are technically considered flightless because – without being mean – they’re just not very good at it.
Some chickens can fly better than others, but even the most graceful of these gorgeous girls will still look more like they’re lifting off through utter panic and sheer luck rather than through any form of skill. In my experience chickens “fly” when they are startled, and it’s more of a jump with a bunch of squawking and carrying on and then it’s all over and done with before you realise what is going on. Which leads us to why…
Why Can’t Chickens Fly Well?
Ancestral chickens did fly, but domestication has bred the need and ability to fly out of our backyard chickens.
Pre-people poultry could all fly fairly well, although science suggests it was never that well that they would win any prizes. The aim of a chicken’s flight was only ever to avoid predation, it was never intended as a primary means of travel.
Ancestral chickens – red or grey jungle fowl - would live and feed on forest floors but fly up to roost safely in the trees or dodge a predator.
CHICKEN WINGS WERE DESIGNED TO HELP A CHICKEN ‘JUMP BETTER’ RATHER THAN LIVE THE LIFE OF AN AIRBORNE BIRD.
Since humans got involved in the evolution of chicken physiology, chickens have been selectively bred for 7,400 years to supply meat or eggs, but never for their piloting skills. The little ability chickens possessed to fly we’ve bred out of them.
We’re not all bad though. We’ve made chickens fatter, but we’ve also protected them from predators and risk. We’ve treated our poultry pals with nice, warm, safe floor-level housing so they needn’t bother with those short flights into the treetops anymore.
Why Do Chickens Fly?
Backyard chickens fly to escape danger and get to something they want. Your chickens’ ancestors flew for those same two reasons, but also to perch and roost safely in high trees.
Not many chicken keepers claim their chooks fly for fun. If they’re not under threat, then they’re most likely to stretch their wings to get to a patch of grass they fancy tearing up or an interesting-looking barn roof that looks inviting.
Wild Jungle fowl can still be seen in Vietnam, Thailand, and the Far East roosting in trees and going to the ground to find their food. They’re much better flyers than our domesticated backyard chickens, but they still only fly when they need to. Wasting your energy on anything non-essential is foolish for any wild animal.
Can All Chickens Fly?
Not all breeds of chicken can fly. Smaller, lighter breeds of chickens can still fly but heavier-bred birds don’t have physics on their side anymore. Birds need 0.6 ounces of wing area per square inch of body weight to fly optimally. No domesticated chicken has this figure to boast of, but some come close enough for sub-optimal flappy flights.
Chicken breeds with fancy, fluffy feathers like Silkies don’t have the flight feather structure to gain any lift, so they don’t even bother trying. Compare this to a Leghorn for example and you could be collecting them from the neighbours yard every afternoon.
Which Chickens Can Fly?
Chicken breeds that can fly include lighter-bodied breeds and bantams. Heritage breeds, crossbreeds, and less popular breeds that haven’t been heavily selectively bred are more likely to have the physique they need to take flight.
In our backyards, it’s the more active, slender-bodied beauties like the Mediterranean breeds that we need to watch. They will hot-foot that fence if they get the chance!
15 Chicken Breeds That Can Fly:
- Appenzeller Spitzhauben
- La Fleche
- Old English Game
- Red Stars (hybrid)
- Sicilian Buttercups
- White-faced black Spanish
Which Chickens Can’t Fly?
Heavy-bodied chickens can’t fly. The ratio of their body weight to wing surface area just doesn’t add up. They still have the instinct to flap about when they’re in distress and might well take the odd run and jump with an added boost of a frantic flap, but it would be a stretch of the wings to call this flight.
Whilst most bantams are thought of as flighty little fluffballs some are too fluffy to fly. Fluffy feathered breeds like Silkies cannot fly at all. They don’t have functioning flight feathers. Other bantams like the Millie Fleur bantam have wings that are just too small to gain lift.
If you’re keen to keep chickens that can’t fly, then here are a handful of flightless chicken breeds to consider:
10 Chicken Breeds That Can’t Fly:
4. Plymouth Rock
7. Rhode Island Red
8. Mille Fleur bantams
How High Can Chickens Fly?
Chickens can fly 4-6 feet off the ground. Some breeds and individuals will be able to jump higher than others. It’s amazing what we can do with a dose of adrenaline in our systems, and it’s safe to say that most chickens will clear a four-foot fence with ease if they’re distressed or feeling vulnerable.
How Far Can Chickens Fly?
Most chickens can’t fly for further than 40 – 50 feet. Sure, the record-breaking bird managed much more than that, but I did some digging, and they had a downhill run up, and the wind behind them. I think we can safely consider this a one-off!
“As of 2014 The longest recorded time a chicken has been observed flying continuously is 13 seconds. The furthest recorded flight of a chicken covered 301.5 feet.”(Guinness Book Of Records)
Can chickens fly over fences?
Yes! But keeping them on the right side of the fence is easier than you think. Download our guide to cutting your chickens wings below. It’s like trimming your nails, it causes no hurt or harm to your chickens and helps you keep them safely inside your backyard.
Can chickens over a 4 foot fence?
Yes! Aside from Silkies and a few other flightless chicken breeds, you are likely to find your girls heading out to see if life really is greener on the other side of the fence. Seeing as though your idea for the purpose of fencing differs to theirs, I would recommend building the fence higher, placing an angled edge on it, OR simply giving their wing(s) a little clip. Wing clipping causes no hurt or harm to the chickens and will help you keep them safely inside your desired parameter.
Can chickens over a 6 foot fence?
Yes, chickens can fly over a 6 foot fence. However, the success or failure of chickens flying over a 6 foot fence comes down to their build and their motivation. Some, like Silkies and Jersey Giants just aren’t physically made for flight. For those that can, we have tricks to stop them flying over the fence. Ourrecent survey shows that chickens keepers agree!Wing clipping is the most successful way to keep chickens from flying away and over fences.
Can chickens over a 8 foot fence?
Yes, chickens can fly over a 8 foot fence. However, the pool of chicken breeds that can do this is low. Silkies chickens simply can’t fly! They have different types of feathers, and it’s just not something you have to worry about. Other breeds less likely to be a problem are, Polish, Bantam Cochins and Batam Orpingtons. At the other end of the scale, you have larger breeds like Brahams, Cochins and Wyandottes where physics just isn’t on their side and they are too heavy to take flight far or high.
However, for those who have vagabonding in their blood and want to take flight more frequently, you can STOP them from flying away over the fence by simply trimming their wings. Its painless and easy. You can download our How To Trim Your Chickens Wings Guide below.
Can chickens fly away?
Yes! However, how far and how fast depends on their motivation. Chickens can get startled and race off in a little dramatic frenzy, sometimes up and over the fence. I haven’t personally had the issue, because I made sure the girls were locked in their coop with food & water in their early days. They were in and out of their coop at dusk and dawn, teaching them this way seems to have avoided the issue of vagabonding chickens for me. However, friends have said there is always one in the flock that likes to fly the coop. They fixed this by trimming her wings.
How Fast Can Chickens Fly?
Chickens fly at 10 mph. 😮 Since they can run surprisingly swiftly at 9mph they don’t gain much in speed when they take flight.
If you’re finding it hard to picture 9mph people run at 12-15mph. So, whilst I feel like I’m being a bit down on chickens and taking the mick a bit at their limited flight capabilities, I’m very impressed with their track skills!
When Do Chicks Learn to Fly?
Baby chickens🐣 start to grow their flight feathers in their first week and – through instinct or accident – they’ll start trying them out straight away. You’ll see your baby chicks flapping around without much success very early on. Bless their little hearts.
Most chickens will have grown their flight feathers in by 5-10 weeks old. They’ll be using them immediately! Your brooder box will need a roof – trust me, I learn this the hard way LOL!
What Do I Do When My Chickens Start to Fly?
When your chickens start to fly your first job as a poultry parent is to watch and learn. They might not fly that high, in which case you can rest easy. They might be rather determined little so and so’s, in which case you might need to consider a covered run or wing clipping if you do need to keep them contained.
How Tall Do My Chicken Runs Need to Be?
Here’s what we all really care about. If they’re going to fly, how high do I need to make these fences?
Most backyard chickens can be contained in a run with a four-foot fence, but it’s not without risk. If you keep smaller, lighter birds or bantams it may be sensible to invest in a six-foot or even ten-foot fence. If that’s just not plausible, then a covered run or wing clipping may be the way forward.
If you’re feeling quietly confident about your non-flighty feathered friends, then it’s also worth thinking about the layout of your run. A six-foot fence with a feeder placed in front of it is no longer a six-foot fence in the eyes of a nosy New Hampshire Red!
Chickens are resourceful and curious, and if they can perch on even the smallest object to aid their escape then they will.
Will I Need a Covered Run?
If you have flighty chickens and don’t like the idea of clipping their wings, then a covered run is necessary if you can’t risk them roaming. If you have a lot of land and understanding neighbors, then a good routine and a happy home will bring your chickens back at night, but chickens who fly too far in a panic are known to get lost. Chickens do not have the same homing instincts as pigeons.
Some states and councils will insist on a covered run regardless of your flock’s breed. This is to keep chickens contained to mitigate the risk of disease spreading. It’s not just about whether your chickens can fly, it’s about the wildlife that could travel coop to coop and cross-contaminate flocks.
Covering your run doesn’t just keep your chickens in. It keeps predators out. Chicken wire or even aviary or deer mesh are affordable and effective.
Should I Clip My Chicken’s Wings?
You should only clip your chicken’s wings if it’s necessary to keep them safe and out of trouble. If you have an uncovered run and a breed of chicken than can fly, then you must accept that they’re a flight risk.
Even the laziest chickens will flap if they’re frightened, and some highly-strung hens jump out of their skin every time a butterfly🦋 enters their run!
If you need to limit your chicken’s ability to fly, then clipping is a good option. It’s painless, easy and effective.
Should Free Range Chickens Have Their Wings Clipped?
If your chickens are free range wing clipping might do more harm than good. Those short bursts of evasive flight are life savers in the face of a predator. You’ll be stripping them of their ability to escape.
The same goes for clipping wings as opposed to covered runs. If savvy predators can get in but your chickens can’t get out, the outcome is sadly obvious, and heart breaking.
Does Clipping a Chicken’s Wing Hurt?
Clipping your chickens’ wings won’t hurt them. I completely feel your fear, it’s like clipping a newborn’s nails for the first time. Think of it egg-sactly like that: clipping your nails.
There is no sensation in your chickens’ feathers at the point you would clip. Clipping feathers too close to the wing or whilst they are still growing out could result in a bleed, but still wouldn’t hurt them.
Clipping your chicken’s wings is just one of the tasks involved in chicken keeping that make have your nerves fired up. It can be daunting if you’ve never done it before.
Don’t stress out about keeping chickens, it’s easy to gain the confidence you need to enjoy chicken care. Check out Chickenpedia’s chicken care courses. They’re the perfect way to swat up on coop life and hen husbandry.
Is It Cruel to Clip My Chicken’s Wings?
There’s nothing cruel about wing clipping. It doesn’t hurt, it keeps them safe, and you’re not hindering an athlete from following their dreams. Your chicken was never going to win any flight contests!
How To Clip a Chicken’s Wings:
1. Make sure they’re ready
The blood supply to your chicken’s flight feathers runs higher up the feather than when they have finished growing. You should never clip feathers that are not fully grown. Make sure your timing is right before you get started.
2. Catch your chicken
This is arguably the hardest bit about clipping your chicken’s wings! Unless you’ve raised a very friendly chicken then your first task will be to catch your chicken. The smaller the space, the easier they’ll be to catch but do this as quickly and efficiently as you can.
It’s tempting to softly-softly chase Yola around the yard declaring that you won’t hurt her, but half an hour of this is more stressful for everyone than a quick swoop with a towel. Once you have your hen in your hands you can calm her quickly.
3. Position your chicken
Holding your chicken on their back will calm them. They seem to go into a trance-like state meaning you can work quickly and safely. Extend the wing you plan to clip and identify the flight feathers.
Using a sharp pair of scissors or clippers clip at least three, but ideally more, flight feathers. If you only plan to clip one wing, make sure you always go for right or left with your whole coop troop, so that you remember where to reclip next time.
“Typically, the outermost five to six (primary) feathers are trimmed about halfway from the base of the feather to the tip. The feathers closer to the body (secondary feathers) should not be clipped, and no feathers should be clipped shorter than midway from base to tip.” (VCA)
How Often Do Chickens' Wings Need Clipping?
You’ll need to clip your chicken’s wing or wings every 1-3 months.
“ …wings need clipping every 1-3 months after the start of a molt cycle, as new feathers grow back. However, every bird is different; some need clipping more often and some less. To prevent accidental injury from a flight, you should regularly check the wings of your pet, since even a couple of new feathers growing in the right place may give the bird the lift it needs to soar. Never assume your bird cannot fly; always check or perform a test fly. (VCA)
Should I Clip One or Both Wings?
You can clip one or both of your chicken’s wings. Some keepers find one wing sufficient since it throws them off balance in flight. They essentially flap around in a circle and soon decide it’s not worth the bother. Other chicken keepers feel it’s kinder and more effective to clip both wings since the chicken can’t get airborne at all so there’s none of the confusion or room for bumps involved in a disrupted one-winged flight.
Can I Stop My Chicken Flying Without Clipping Their Wings?
If you can’t face the thought of clipping your flighty chicken’s wings, or if you want to show your chickens (in which case wing clipping is a no-go) then you have three alternatives:
1. Let Them fly!
2. Cover the run
What is Brailing?
Brailing is a temporary way of hindering flight in chickens. It’s essentially a tie placed around the wings so they can’t spread their wings. Brailing is mostly used in show birds since clipped wings would disqualify them.
Brailing must be done carefully so chickens aren’t bound too tightly resulting in blood flow being restricted, and brails have to be removed completely every week. It’s not the most convenient method for most backyard chicken keepers since it’s pretty time-consuming.
FLYING CHICKENS IS NOTHING TO GET IN A FLAP ABOUT
Keeping chickens throws up half a dozen questions a day, and what to do about your chickens flying the nest is just one of them!
What size coop should you buy? What breed of chicken would be best? Do I Need a rooster? What is that thing in the nest box…that can’t be an egg?
You can prepare with a good book, and you can research as things crop up, but the learning never ends with keeping chickens. The problem is knowing which advice to take and knowing how to spot issues before they become a big deal. On the flip side of this omelet, we have busy lives, and don’t have the time to study for a degree in animal husbandry!
Chickenpedia is egg-sactly what it sounds like: an encyclopaedia of chickens. You’ll find reliable, concise, easy-to-understand guidance on all the things you need to know to keep backyard chicken, and none of the fluff you don’t need. The only fluff you’ll find are some adorable baby chicken pictures!