Chicken is one of the bird species, so nature and evolution equipped them with pairs of wings so that they could fly high in the sky, explore the world, and hunt downland prey.
But, the reality is a bit dull. While chickens have wings, you don’t see them flying around very often, so you may ask: “Why can’t chickens fly?” The chickens do use their wings for flying, they just don’t do it very well.
Why can’t chickens fly?
Chickens actually CAN fly!!!, they are just not good at doing so. Their body-to-wing ratio isn’t high enough that they can’t lift themselves in the air for too long and too high.
Why don’t chickens fly very often?
They are too heavy
Chickens have considerably large and powerful wing muscles. In theory, with tons of power, chickens should be able to fly and do it excellently, but the opposite happened.
The extra power comes with the extra mass that makes the chickens fly more difficultly, to the point that they can’t fly very far or high. Small chickens can fly higher since they have less mass to lift.
The chicken’s ancestor – the red jungle fowl – is already not excellent at flying in the first place.
The red jungle fowls’ natural habitats are the jungle forests, where they spend most of their time roosting in low-flying tree branches, flying short distances from one branch to another, and forage for food on the ground.
In those densely packed jungles, the red jungle fowls don’t need to fly high up or long distances at all.
A 3 kg (or 6.6 lbs) jungle fowl may have only 75 cm (or 29.5 inches) of wingspan. For a broiler chicken of similar size, the wingspan may be just about 45 cm.
The body-to-wing ratio is even smaller for chickens. The chickens can’t generate enough lift to keep themselves in the air for too long.
Crossbreeding from humans
The nowadays domesticated chicken is the result of years of selective breeding, which exaggerated some features that make the species even more challenging to fly.
The selective breeding has resulted in chickens with larger and larger breast-wing muscles, especially for the meat-producing breeds, which as mentioned, limit their flying ability further.
For all of those reasons, when flying, the chickens tend to take off and glide to their landing. It makes sense that an animal originally designed to live in a dense jungle with branches that are close together.
How high and how far can chickens fly?
Although chickens are not capable of flying too high or too far like geese or migratory ducks, they will attempt to at some point. The exact height and distance depend largely on its breed’s size.
Small-breed chickens can fly up to about 10 feet and reach a distance of up to 50 feet. When transferring to real life, those numbers mean the chickens can escape your yard if the fences are not high enough.
However, they won’t get away very far since they want to find a tree or a bush to settle in. You still need to hurry up and find it though.
What should you do when a chicken tries to fly?
Don’t worry too much
Chickens have the instinct to return to the coop at dusk. So if they are still on your property and presumably have no danger, you can let them roost on the tree branches or some high places.
However, you should go out and look for them quickly if they went too far or there are dangers around them. They may get hit by vehicles on the roads or end up as dinners for predators. Their survival instinct is not as great as wild chickens.
Give them what they need
Chickens often leap over fences to look for food, so try to provide them enough food, water, space, and comfort. They won’t be motivated to fly out if your coop has what they need.
Provide higher perches
You should give the chickens higher perches since they tend to reach higher perches to roost overnight if their coop is low to the ground. This makes them vulnerable to predators hunting at night.
The higher perches are used to adjust their habit of roosting by making it harder to reach and refraining them from free-ranging for some days.
Clip their wings
If you want to limit the chickens’ flying capability and keep them safe from outside threats but not replacing all of the low fences you already have, you can instead clip their wings.
The idea is cutting off a few inches of the primary feathers used for flying and leaving the rest alone to reduce their wingspread, which in turn makes the chickens harder to fly.
Also, the chickens can adapt to flying with clipped wings. So if you want to throw them off, you can clip one wing only since unequal wings are more annoying than 2 equal wings. If they adopt again, clip the remaining wing.
But, keep in mind that by clipping your chickens’ wings, you take away one of their defense tools. They will be more vulnerable to predators like cats, foxes, bears, and more.
Chickens CAN fly! However, they are not very good at it. They are just bad at flying high or far. Small-breed chickens’ best height and distance are roughly 10 feet and 50 feet respectively.
Chickens are bad at flying because their ancestor is not usually flying far and high either. The red jungle fowls’ natural habitats are densely-packed forests with branches that are close to each other.
To prevent your chickens from flying high, you should fulfill their needs so they don’t feel like leaping over the fences, provide them higher perches, or consider clipping their wings to limit their flying ability.
Image credits – Photo by James Wainscoat on Unsplash