Can Chickens Fly? 5 Myths Debunked

Can Chickens Fly? 5 Myths Debunked

From time to time, we get questions about the hens’ ability to fly.

So today we are going to answer this very question for you.

The short answer is: yes!

As always though, there is more to the answer so read on my friends.

Our backyard hens are the noble descendants of the red or grey Jungle Fowl (and dinosaurs!). These birds are still found in the wild in countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar and Laos in the Far East.

In the wild, jungle fowl not only perch in trees, but they also roost in trees. They are very adept at flying to escape predators. They ‘go to ground’ to scratch, forage and lay eggs but will quickly take to the air if alarmed.

Let’s start by looking at the most common chicken breeds and seeing which of them can fly…

Which Chickens Can Fly?

The ability of a chicken to fly is usually determined by their breed type.

Heavy breeds such as Orpingtons and Wyandottes hens may ‘fly’ about a foot off the ground for a very short distance.

Their wings cannot give them the lift power needed for the size of the hens’ body.

If you have ever stood a distance from your birds and offered treats, you will have seen the heavier breeds covering the ground much like a hovercraft in their hurry to see what you have for them! They sort of wobble from side to side wings flapping madly in the rush to see what interesting tidbits you have!

It’s the ‘Mediterranean’ breeds (Ancona, Leghorns etc) that are known as flighty birds.

Araucanas too, enjoy the challenge of flight and will sometimes roost up in the trees at night.

I’m told that Red Rangers are determined escape artists by several folks who have them in their flocks.

Spitzhaubens are originally from Switzerland and also love to fly.

If you have bantam hens, you will know they can fly very well, achieving a considerable height! If they are startled by a predator they can fly up into a tree and roost there as long as is needed, in fact some bantam breeds can do an almost vertical takeoff!

The beauty of bantams is that if you really want to keep them confined, a high enclosed run with plenty of perches and boxes will keep them very happy, and safe.

Breeds that never seem to entertain the idea of flying are Silkies and Polish. Neither breed is known for flying – it’s almost as if it’s beneath them to flap the wings and become airborne.

Why Do Chickens Fly?

Curiosity and Determination.

These two things are the ‘why’ of chicken flight that is not initiated by predator.

The grass is always greener – almost always in the neighbors’ garden! Hens are intensely curious creatures and love to investigate new things, especially if it might be food or pleasure related.

If you have neighbors that like to keep a well-manicured lawn, lots of beautiful flower beds, planters and perhaps a veggie garden – I can pretty much guarantee your chickens will be curious enough to try and visit that yard!

After all, who can resist all that lovely food to taste and mulch to bathe in?

It takes a very short time for a couple of out of control hens to wreck a flower bed, pluck the flowers, scratch up the mulch, peck at the tomatoes and have a fabulous dust bath!

The other component is determination. If you have a four foot fence between you and the neighbor, it should hold in your heavier birds such as Australorps and Barred Rocks.

If you have lighter breeds they are likely to find no difficulty in going over the top.

Given enough determination, a curious hen will fly right over an eight foot fence with minimal effort.

Rooster Flying

A covered, secure run will make your life less stressful.

Of course, a great reason to want to keep them in your yard is their safety. Once they are out of your sight, who knows what can happen.

A chicken that has flown a good distance because she was frightened or chased, may become so disoriented that she cannot find her way home.

Sadly, chickens that get lost rarely have a happy reunion with their owners and flock-mates.

If you have chickens that are prone to flying over the fence and landing in the neighbors’ yard, where they scratch up the prize flowers and poop all over the place – try clipping their wings. It will keep the birds at home and keep neighborly relations civil.

How to Trim Chicken’s Feathers

Trimming flight feathers is one way to try and limit the flying ability of your chicken.

Notice I said try – some really determined hens have proven to their owners that they can still fly despite wing trimming!

The idea is to trim the feathers of one wing so the bird cannot get an equal ‘lift’ from both wings, giving them an unstable balance in take-off and flight. Only in persistent ‘offenders’ is it necessary to trim both wings.

Trimming is a personal thing. Some folks don’t believe in it, others swear by it. I can’t say either way since my flock is free range – and they have no gorgeous neighboring yards to admire or desire.

The usual trimming involves the primary flight feathers only and seems to work well as a deterrent for most birds.

If the hen is more determined to fly and overcomes the first trimming, you can also trim the secondary feathers.

Wing trimming is not a permanent solution. Each year when the bird molts, the new feathers that grow in will need to be trimmed as before.

It is important to remember that when you trim the adult feathers you are cutting through hollow quills. If you cut emerging pin feathers after the molt you will cause pain and bleeding – it is vital to let the feathers grow out until the blood supply shuts down leaving hollow quills.

Brailing

If you have exhibition birds, wing trimming will disqualify them from showing. There is a second technique to prevent chickens from flying however – it is called ‘brailing’.

Brailing involves wrapping or binding the wing with some soft cord so that the wing cannot be opened for flight.

The most important points of brailing is to ensure the binding isn’t too tight and constricting the blood flow and secondly, removing the brail from the wing and applying to the other wing about every week or so.

Obviously, placing a restrictive device on the wing can cause injury or disability if done improperly.

As far as I know, it is done infrequently in chickens, most folks preferring to trim the wings to prevent escape.

If you have exhibition birds that like to fly, brailing may be the answer. Of course, it stands to reason that if you trim or brail a bird they need to be kept secure from predators since they will not be able to escape.

Interesting Chicken Flying Facts

  • The longest recorded flight of a chicken was 13 seconds
  • The furthest recorded distance was 301.5 feet
  • Chickens can run at 9mph (humans 12-15mph)

As you probably know chicks’ grow in their flight feathers somewhere between 5-10 weeks.

We all smile at the ‘proto flights’ of baby chicks as they try out their little wings – some flights end in near disaster, but it’s all part of their learning process for later in life.

Summary

So yes, hens can fly!

It’s simply a matter of how high or how far for each individual bird. Fortunately distance is usually not their prime objective – gaining height to elude capture or predators or fly over obstacles is.

So now you know that hens can be mischievous and selectively deaf about ‘flying the coop’!

Some will continue to try no matter how you try to contain them; it’s the wild jungle fowl genes coming out.

The only truly effective way to keep them contained is a covered run area or a fence so high that it is impossible to get over, although there is always one hen….

If you keep only heavier breeds in a well secured area, you are unlikely to have many problems with your ladies wandering across to the neighbors.

If you have ‘flighty’ breeds, I’m sure you might have already had them trying to escape.

I’m sure some of you have some funny stories to tell about your escape artists – please share them with us below and tell us how you dealt with it.

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Comments

  1. William Martin says

    We started with eleven one day old chickens back in March. We lost nine of them back in July to the foxes. One of our two remaining is laying her third egg this morning. We have three acres for our hens and they have always been free ranged. Flying saved the two we have. They are Rhode Island Reds. We have one neighbor who they always visit and are welcomed there. I love your article. Thanks!

  2. Laurie says

    Yes I have hens that fly. They are golden buffs or also called sex links. My run is fenced but on a hill. They get at the top as far from the fence as they can and run flapping their wings. The ground falls away and they have the altitude to fly over. The problem is that the ground drops quickly beyond the fence and then all of a sudden they are about 30 feet in the air with fear in their eyes. I need a much higher fence.

  3. Linda Williamson says

    Thank you
    My orpingtons fly into low tree limbs about 2-3 feet up. The leg horn gets up on the tables. But the barred rock stays low. She is very large. ???

  4. peter says

    Very informative and interesting post, as usual! We trimmed our four birds’ flight feathers soon after acquiring them, as they showed tendencies of flying off at first, but since settling in they have got used to ranging widely in our garden, and don’t even bother to go more widely to neighbours’ land, even though there are holes in the hedge!

    They certainly can scamper quickly when they have a mind to, and us their wings like oars to propel them that bit faster after another hen’s worm. They are totally fascinating creatures, and I’m only sorry I came to them late in life, I think I might have been a saner and kinder individual if I had met chicken-kind earier!

  5. Chris Dowing says

    Yup, my Welsummer has no problem standing under her 5 foot high roost and flying straight up to it. Where my Rhode Island Red really can only do a slightly controlled descent. I think all she can do is jump a little. So fun to watch their different characters. I recently purchased 6 ISA Brown and 6 Leghorn chicks. Curious how well they will be able to fly.

  6. Sharon Anderson says

    we have 2 wyandottes & a Rhode island red. One of the wyandotte, everyday will fly over the fence to next door. It’s a 5ft fence. She flys straight over. Lucky we live nextdoor to family, & have a gate between our houses. Now we just leave the gate open so they can come & go as they please. lol

  7. chuk says

    I was just amazed just how high my new chicken flew the first time I let them out for a run around the garden! One quickly decided to take advantage of the extra space and was quickly followed by another – they both flew at least 6ft high and a fair distance!!
    I have one particular chicken that likes to fly to the top of the coop and perch up their perhaps to enjoy a good look around. They certainly to explore.

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