It’s a surprisingly common question and one which mostly concerns those who keep chickens in their yard and want them to be free range but are worried about them escaping out into the dangerous outside world.
Most people think of chickens, like ostriches and penguins, to be flightless birds, but on the contrary, chickens can indeed fly!
Even domesticated chicken breeds can clear a 4-foot fence if they wanted to escape from a perceived threat like a fox, cat or pet dog. The actual extent of a chicken’s flight and the amount that they use this ability does depend wholly on their species and breed.
So unlike cattle, even a fence with an electric charger isn’t going to keep your chickens in!
Mostly, chickens do not have the capacity for endurance flights, they are more the short sprint kind of birds rather than the marathon, so don’t expect them to soar like an albatross. Domesticated varieties have a lesser flight ability still, due to selective breeding causing them to be bulkier and heavier without having the wingspan or power in the wings to take off properly.
Domesticated Chicken Breeds
Domestic chickens owe their wings and limited ability to fly to their biological relatives; their extant cousins but as stated above, their capacity for flight depends on their breed. Some chicken breeds are entirely grounded no matter how hard they flap their wings, whilst others have the power to gain enough altitude to jump a fence, get into a tree or even onto a roof!
Take a look at some of the common breeds of domestic chicken and see how their ability to fly can mostly be determined by the size and weight that the breed tends to be.
Orpington: Orpington is a fancy breed of chicken that originates from Kent, UK. They’re usually kept as pets or for ornamental purposes as they are distinctively beautiful birds. They can come in a range of vibrant colors, including golden red to smoky blue and oily black. They have barely any flight ability, great for urban keepers.
Plymouth Rock: An American breed of hen, the Plymouth Rock is another large hardy variety. They sport a large range of color variation between them too and are good looking hens. They’re large birds with fairly small wings and so their ability to fly is stunted.
Australorp: Australops are another bulky, feathery British breed that typically comes in black, blue or brown. They have a docile temperament and are good to have around kids. Again, this breed is quite heavy restricting most of their ability to fly.
Jersey Giant: This breed of giant chickens is the world’s largest and as a result of this, do require more feed. It’s quite a rare breed in fact; due to the upkeep cost and the lack of interest in yellow skinned poultry in the European and American markets. This breed of chicken can’t fly at all.
Appenzeller Spitzhauben: A light breed of chicken can be described as being “flighty” because it has better capabilities to fly and this is a prime example of one. This pretty looking chicken has an interesting forward facing crest from where it gets its name. It also has great color variation.
Leghorn: Leghorn chickens are a very hardy and also very flighty breed of chicken but due to having a sleek look, remain a popular backyard breed. They can come in many different color variations; most commonly white and they originate from Germany.
Vorwerk: This cool looking bird, another light, and flighty chicken are quite active and alert in temperament. They always have black feathers around the head and neck, with black highlights on the wings and tail, with the body and wings being buff colored.
Welsummer: The Welsummer chickens were selected primarily for their large, dark brown eggs yet the breed still has a traditional appeal to them. They’re quite flighty and can use their wings to get around quite well.
Does Having a Flighty Chicken Pose a Problem?
This would depend on a number of things, certainly, your location being a major concern. If you are or are planning to be an urban keeper of chickens, then it is not a good idea to have the flighty varieties and even with those who have fewer flight capabilities, it’s still a good idea to ensure you have a high fence that’s at least 5 feet tall to be safe.
For those of you who live away from the dangers of traffic, people and other dangers of an urban environment, there’s not usually any worry about having a flighty bird. You may want to take your neighbors into consideration of course, but chickens love to get around and graze for delicious insects and plants so they will hop over fences and up trees to peck there.
They usually come back to the coop before dusk; it’s within their instinct to do so, so you need not worry about them not returning out of choice. You may, however, worry about angry pets or wild animals they seek to make your hens their prey and this is a rightful concern, they’ll use their flight to escape predators but it’s not 100% guaranteed they will get away every time.
How to Prevent Your Chickens from Flying Away
Well, the reason the chickens are going cross country is in search of food sources, they just love to graze and so will search for better grazing opportunities. Ensure they are getting fed well, and ensure they are not cramped up anywhere. That goes the same with water, ensure they got plenty of clean water they can get from dispensers like chicken waterers so they don’t go looking elsewhere.
You may find your chicken jumps up into a tree during the night, or onto the roof of their coops, this is because, like other birds, they want to be up high to keep themselves away from predators on the ground. Give them higher places to perch themselves in your yard and they’ll be more likely to stay there instead of in trees on the outer bounds of your territory.
Other people like to buy coops which have runs attached to them which allows your chicken to graze and stretch their legs but also keeps them safe. It’d not as spacious as having the whole yard for them, just ensure it’s enough for the number of chickens you want to get or have already. They will peck at and essentially strip the land that you place the run over too, so you will need to move it once in a while to give them fresh turf to graze.
If you are planning on buying a coop, we would recommend the one that is pictured which you can purchase from Amazon, but it’s a matter of preference so have a look around and see what you find is the best option for you!
Wing clipping is an effective method of inhibiting a chicken’s ability to fly. It’s not painful at all for your chickens to do this and can be done by yourself at home. You’ll do this by clipping the tips of their primary flight feathers. Please check out the video guide below that’ll teach you how to do this properly.
Please bear in mind, however, by clipping their wings you are leaving them without their sole defense mechanism from predators, so this is choice for you to make depending on how likely they are to encounter a predator in your location.