Though it might sound absurd, a major concern of new poultry keepers is if their chickens will fly away. And never come back. They do not specifically worry if the chickens will fly to another city or country, but if they will get out of their enclosures.
For backyard poultry keepers, the concern might be if the chickens will fly over the fence and feast on their garden. They might also fly over the fence, get into the neighbor’s yard and cause chicken mayhem.
Do chickens fly? Technically no. Chickens cannot fly. But they can jump, and with the aid of their wings jump vertically up to 7 feet, and in some cases of some breeds up to 10 feet. They can also move horizontally over short distances of up to 50 feet with the aid of their wings.
Chickens belong to a category of birds known as flightless birds. These include the ostrich, emu, kiwi, cassowary, and penguins These are birds that have evolved over time, losing their ability to fly in favor of an increase in body size.
Experts say once upon a long term, chickens used to fly. The closest we can see in action is jungle fowls. And their domesticated counterparts, the game chicken breeds. They have smaller bodies and large wings. They can move further into the air or vertically than other chickens.
Over the centuries, breeders have reduced the ability of chickens to use their wings in favor of muscle development for meat.
Why do chickens fly?
Chickens will use their wings to move for various reasons. These are:
- Get to their roosts.
- Get away from danger.
- Stay away from danger.
- Get to food.
- Because they can.
- Protecting themselves.
Get to their roosts.
Most chicken breeds prefer to sleep while on roosts. Roosts are horizontal bars place high in chickens coops for chickens to perch.
Roosting is a survival instinct, which chickens developed over time, in order to stay away from predators, who hunt at night. Most night predators cannot jump or fly.
Get away from danger.
Chickens will use their wings to fasten their movements in the face of danger. Flapping their wings helps them move faster from predators and falling objects.
Stay away from danger
Chickens will fly and climb on top of objects in order to stay away from danger. This includes climbing up tall trees. Do not be surprised when in the evening your chickens climb on a tree instead of getting into the coops. They will be feeling safer there than in their coops.
They climb trees by jumping from one branch to another. Their wings help them move up and up.
Do not be surprised if you find a chicken high up on the roof of your house!
Get to their feed
Chickens will fly to get to feed. I am not saying that you are not feeding them right, but the plants in your garden look more tasty and delicious. The grass at your neighbor’s house looks greener and could use a little beak inspection.
Because the can
Chickens will fly out of their enclosures because it is in their genes. Some chicken breeds will stay happily in their enclosures but others thrive when walking around.
Good luck in keeping your chickens enclosed if you are keeping game breeds such as the American game, English game, Asil, and other game breeds.
Each time I let my cornish cross out of the chicken tractor, they start running around, flapping their scarcely feathered feathers, trying to fly.
Roosters, when fighting off predators will use their wings to propel themselves towards the predator. It also increases the force with which they peck their adversaries.
How high can chickens fly?
Chickens can fly up to 10 feet high. Not all chickens are made equal when it comes to jumping or their limited flight capability. How high a chicken flies depends on the breed and sometimes the weight of the chickens.
The breed of the chicken
Various chicken breeds will fly or jump to a limited height depending on the breed. Game Breeds like the American game and English game will easily fly over a 10 feet tall run.
Araucanas, Red Rangers, Spitzhaubens, Ancona, Leghorns are flighty birds. You might just find them in your neighbors garden if necessary steps are not taken to prevent them from flying.
Bantams, those tiny lovely chickens, can fly up to surprisingly high levels, sometimes as high as their full-grown counterparts. Silkies and polish chickens never bother to fly. Silkies have “silk-like” feathers that cannot gather enough air under them in order to take a flight.
The weight of the chickens
Heavy breeds such as Brahmas and Jersey Giants cannot fly much. This is because of their weight.
The same goes for meat chickens like the Cornish Cross, whose weight gain outpaces the growth of their wings. I am not sure if they could fly if their feed intake was controlled. Maybe I will try with my next Cornish Cross batch!
Chickens breeds that can fly: Game breeds, Araucanas, Red Rangers, Spitzhaubens, Ancona, Leghorns, Bantams that do not have silkie feathers.
Chickens breeds that do not fly: Silkies, Cornish Cross, Bantams.
How to keep chickens from flying.
Having established that chicken breeds fly a little, you might want to keep them from getting into your garden, or moving to your neighbors. Let us look at ways of stopping chickens from flying.
- Feed them well.
- Provide high roosts for them to perch.
- Clip their wings.
- Use strap tie cords.
- Use a high fence.
- Provide enough space for them to roam.
Feeding them well.
Feeding chickens well and keeping them comfortable will reduce the chances of them wanting to fly out of their chicken run. While some truant chickens will always want to get away, giving them a well-balanced chicken feed and water should keep them in their run.
Clipping the wings of chickens will prevent them from flying or jumping high. Clipping wings is a practice whereby the first 10 primary flight feathers are trimmed. This does not harm the chicken because only part of the feather is cut off.
While some poultry keepers view clipping wings as an unnecessary practice, that interferes with the natural behavior of chickens, it is has been done as a necessary procedure. This is especially for people keeping chickens in small spaces such as backyards.
Provide high roosts.
Roosting on a perch high up the ground is a natural behavior of chickens that makes them feel secure from predators. Providing enough roosts in the chicken run and coop will keep them feeling safe and secure. If you do not provide this, they will seek it elsewhere.
The ideal height for chicken roosts should be at least 18 inches from the ground. Roosts should be placed high above the nesting boxes, or else the chickens will try to roost on the nesting boxes. Some chickens breeds can roost higher than 18 inches.
When I introduce new roosts in my chicken coop, I watch them in the evening as they are jumping to their roosts. This allows me to quickly notice if they are struggling to reach their roosts. It also helps me tell if I have placed the roosts too low.
Provide adequate space for them to roam.
Free-range chickens, with adequate space to roam, will have no reason to fly to where they are not supposed to go. This is because they will feel satisfied and happy as they are practicing their natural behavior.
This might not be practical for backyard poultry keepers but will work well for homesteaders who have access to a larger acreage.
Chickens runs should be fenced high enough so that chickens do not jump over. The ideal height for a chicken run fence is 7 feet, but you can go as high as 10 feet if possible. You can also cover the top of your chicken runs with bird netting to keep them from flying over.
Use of tie cords.
Tie cords are put around the legs of chickens, especially game birds, to prevent them from escaping or hurting each other. Tie cords might be overkill if you are not keeping game breeds.