Chickens are known to jump and flap their wings around, but that doesn’t mean they can fly, right? However, most flightless birds can’t use their wings to lift themselves off the ground, so can chickens fly?
Chickens are not flightless; they can fly in short bursts (to escape danger or reach a perch) but cannot fly long distances. Chickens are short-burst fliers due to their size, wing muscles, and weight. Some chickens can fly over 12-foot tall fences, though most struggle to get over a 3-foot fence.
Despite this, chickens are often considered to be flightless. The question remains – why can’t chickens fly? Were they always like this? Can they at least glide? Read on to learn to get answers.
Can Chickens Fly?
Most domestic chickens cannot fly long distances, but lighter species can fly over short distances. The size of the chicken impacts its flight ability, with heavier birds being less able to fly in any direction compared to lighter birds.
We have all seen chickens attempt to fly at least once, right? And it seems they can move in the air to a certain degree but is that flying?
While chickens are mostly considered flightless birds, smaller species can cover short distances. However, flying isn’t their preferred method of movement, as we’re about to explore it in great detail.
Do Chickens Jump or Fly?
Large chickens primarily run and jump, while smaller chickens can fly in short bursts. Chickens instinctively flap their wings while running or jumping. Flapping may prolong their time in the air, speeding them up or helping them get a little higher and further.
However, chickens can’t hover or ascend very far. So even the lighter birds, who can fly, can’t stay in the air like other birds. And their flight capabilities are severely limited compared to other bird species.
So, large chickens jump, and while attempting to fly, they can’t go far. What they can do, however, is to jump from one spot to the other, which is how they gain ground. Flapping can help them jump a little farther than they could get without the wing assist, but it’s not a ton.
Lighter chickens (there are varieties within the species) can fly across short distances. These birds will jump off a platform but ascend by flapping their wings.
I’ve seen smaller chickens, whether lighter individuals of a heavier breed or smaller breeds, take flight across a yard. Some of my family members have chickens who, as members of lighter chicken breeds, can fly their 12-foot tall perimeter fence.
Cutting flight feathers (in a humane method) will help keep the chickens even more flightless to keep them inside a fence, but it will only last until the next set of feathers comes in after molting. You’ll have to trim the flight feathers again when that happens or fatten the bird up.
Can Wild Chickens Fly?
Feral or wild chickens have no more developed flight abilities than domestic chickens. These species only fly to reach their roosting areas and to avoid predators.
They can use this ability to gain some ground, but they can’t fly away like other birds.
How Far Can Chickens Fly?
That depends on the height from which the chicken jumps. Jumping off the ground will allow the chicken to fly for a few feet. However, if a chicken jumps from a great height – 10 feet, for example – it can cover at least 20 to 30 feet in distance.
Since their wings slow their descent, the chicken doesn’t hurt itself by jumping from such a height.
The world record for the longest chicken flight is 13 seconds, while the greatest covered distance is 301.5 feet (source). However, this extreme example shouldn’t be taken as the norm.
Do Roosters Fly?
Like chickens, roosters can fly short distances, but they are incapable of long-distance flight. Their bodies are too large, and their wings are too undeveloped to fly for more than a few feet at a time.
Some chicken breeds are better fliers than our run-of-the-mill domesticated chickens. These chickens are primarily European and were selectively bred to have enhanced flying abilities. However, not even these chickens can achieve long-distance flight.
Catalan, Andalusian, black Spanish, and Ancona chickens are better at flying than most domesticated chickens.
Do Chickens Glide?
Chickens cannot glide like other birds, but they do something similar. They will flap their wings and slow down their descent when they jump. While that does not count at gliding, it grants them minimal control over their descent.
Even though that doesn’t compare with avian flying abilities, it’s more than other animals can do midair.
Breeds of Chickens That Can Fly
Not a single chicken breed (domesticated or wild) is capable of long-distance flight. Chickens’ wings are too weak to lift their weight from the ground for sustained flight, though they can still use their wings and minor flight capabilities to generate speed or height to escape danger.
Chickens have been selectively bred to be short and heavy, and with generations, they haven’t needed to fly long distances – not since they trained humans to take care of them!
However, farmers started breeding chickens with no set plan, and by giving them this freedom, some cross-breeds started regaining their natural flight abilities. You can watch this YouTube video as an example.
The chickens in this video are a cross of Friesian and Wyandotte hens, with the former known to be very light. Because of this, these birds have more advanced flying abilities than most regular domesticated chickens.
They can take off almost vertically, ascend, and turn – prolonging their flight. Despite this, they still can’t achieve long-distance flight.
The birds are still too heavy to stay in the air for a long time – they have to flap their wings very quickly with a lot of strength to achieve the things they do in the video (which is amazing on its own).
To achieve long-distance flight, chickens would either have to grow massive wings or shrink their bodies (without shrinking their wings).
Why Do Chickens Not Fly?
Chickens are too heavy, and their wings are too small to achieve long-distance flight. Their flight muscles are too heavy to stay in the air for a long time. However, they can do short bursts of flight to escape danger or to reach a perch.
Red junglefowl, essentially a wild, undomesticated chicken – is also incapable of flying long distances. Chickens are direct descendants of these birds – people domesticated chickens 8,000 years ago, and we turned them into heavier birds with weaker wings through selective breeding.
These birds are more physically developed than chickens – they’re not as low-bodied and heavy, and their wings are more powerful. Despite this, they still can’t fly. This gives us an insight into the history of chicken.
The purpose of the chicken’s wings, it seems, was never to fly over long distances. They have powerful wing muscles so they can explode into flight, launching themselves away from predators.
If you have ever tried to catch a chicken, you know exactly what we’re talking about.
So, it’s technically untrue that chickens can’t fly. They utilize a different form of flight than what we think of when we think of birds flying. Chickens are short-burst fliers, not long-distance fliers.
Long-distance fliers have lighter wing muscles and larger wings (in comparison to their bodies), which is why they can swing their wings so much without getting tired.
This is why chickens have more edible meat than most wild bird species – they have more muscle.
For a bird to fly, it needs “one square inch of wing space per 0.6 ounces of body mass,” (source) and chickens don’t fall in this ratio.
Are Chickens Flightless Birds?
By definition, chickens are not flightless birds. Flightless birds are birds that completely lost the ability to fly through evolution. Chickens still have some flying abilities, just not long-distance flying.
Penguins, ostriches, emus, and cassowaries are the most famous flightless birds.
Do Chickens Fly Away?
Chickens cannot fly away in a single flight, but they can certainly escape in a few short bursts. A chicken can jump and fly 20 feet away, land, and jump again. That is how they avoid predators in the wild.
They also fly up, landing on a branch, perch, or platform where predators can’t reach them. However, chickens aren’t very bright, and they don’t have much stamina, so it should be easy to catch one if it gets away.
Can Chickens Fly Over Fences
Chickens can fly over a fence, especially if the fence is low. Tall fences can’t be flown over as easily, but a chicken can pull it off if it has a platform to launch itself off of, especially if that perch is partway up the fence.
Flying chicken breeds, the ones we mentioned before, can fly over a fence.
We have several chicken breeds (Buff Orpingtons, Americaunas, and Rhode Island Reds), and they can all get over our 3-foot-tall chainlink fence. They jump up to the top of the fence, perch on the horizontal support that holds it up, and then back down.
Only one of our 12 chickens can make it to the top of the 6-foot tall privacy vinyl fence around our yard, and she could only do it a few times. She quit trying once she realized all the treats were only in our yard. We trimmed her flight feathers the first year, which also helped her learn to stay in our yard.
We also have a 3-foot-tall temporary fence made of chicken wire. None of the chickens can get over that, as there’s no horizontal support for them to rest on between getting up and over the other side. To get over that fence, they jump up and onto the gate we installed so we could use it!
Earlier in the article, I mentioned that we have family members who have a breed of chicken that has jumped a 12-foot-tall fence. In case you’re wondering, it’s a Sebright hen. It’s a cutie!
Key Takeaway: Chickens Can Fly
As we learned, chickens can fly; they can’t achieve long-distance flight. Their bodies and wing muscles are too heavy, while the wings aren’t large enough to keep them in the air.
Wild chickens are no different from domesticated chickens – they can’t fly either. However, some breeds have greater flight capabilities than others, can fly over fences, and have a decent vertical lift-off. Time will tell if they’ll evolve greater flying abilities.
Even then within some breeds, individual birds perform better and worse than the other birds.
Chickens can fly, and they can also get into mischief (even with their food); here are some examples of what to do in these how-tos:
- 10 Ways to Keep Chickens Out of Flower Beds and Gardens
- 10 Clever Ways to Keep Chickens from Wasting Food
- Plants Chickens Won’t Eat: The Complete Guide
- How to Stop Chickens From Pecking Each Other: 10 Tips That Help
Learning from your own experience is essential, but learning from others is also intelligent. These are the sources used in this article and our research to be more informed as homesteaders.
- Chicken Channel. “Chickens Flying in the Yard.” YouTube, 4 Apr. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRpgnMDr7Ms.
- Geggel, Laura. “Forget About the Road. Why Are Chickens so Bad at Flying?” livescience.com, 8 Dec. 2016, www.livescience.com/57139-why-chickens-cannot-fly.html.
- “The Wild Species Genome Ancestry of Domestic Chickens.” NIH, 12 Feb. 2020, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7014787.
- What Is a Chicken? – Incubation and Embryology – University of Illinois Extension. web.extension.illinois.edu/eggs/res08-whatis.html.
- “What Is the Longest Recorded Flight of a Chicken?” Reference.com, 13 Apr. 2020, www.reference.com/pets-animals/longest-recorded-flight-chicken-5abd0ed8b465850f.