Ever wondered how it is that you put your flock in their run in the morning and by the time you've finished your first cup of coffee they're all over your back yard?
You're standing there asking yourself - "How did that happen?"
There's a simple explanation.
Chickens can fly!
They not only can, they have to!
Our domesticated birds are descended from the wild jungle fowl of Asia. In the wild, it's completely natural for them to fly. They use their wings to escape predators and to roost in trees at night.
No. Naturally speaking domestic chickens aren't good flyers - their body weight is too heavy for their wings to carry them any distance. They tend to do a kind of hop and flap motion.
It's not terribly elegant!
Left to themselves, they'll generally stay on the ground where they can forage for food. But they'll fly if they have to - to escape predators, to roost, to get out of their run onto open land and occasionally, in my experience, just to prove who's boss.
Trust me - it's not easy getting a chicken down from a roof in the snow.
Oh yes. In fact, some of my own girls flew over our six foot fence even when they'd had one wing clipped. Everything I'd read said they shouldn't be able to fly with one wing clipped.
I didn't know how they were doing it until I sat and watched them.
They hopped onto a branch which took them about halfway up the fence - and then they flapped their wings long enough to get over to the other side.
They were lopsided and they weren't terribly elegant in the way they landed. But they did it.
I have personal experience of my Red Stars flying between ten and fourteen feet off the ground when they really want to get somewhere.
Not all chickens are that energetic, and the heavier breeds won't be able to get anything like that high.
But four feet is easy for them. Six is getting more difficult but still very possible.
From when they're just a couple of days old chickens develop wing feathers and will experiment with using them. This chick was flying around the room like an expert at just over one week old!
Buffy, one of my hatchlings - see how her wing feathers are already growing?
Depending on the breed the flight feathers - the long feathers on the leading edge of the wing - start growing at day three or four after hatching and are fully developed by the age of between five and ten weeks.
5 days post-hatch, and Buffy's flight feathers are already long!
They can, but some seem to prefer it more than others.
Bantams are the best flyers - their small body makes it easier for them to get off the ground.
Lighter bodied breeds like Araucanas and my own hybrid Red Stars seem to like to fly.
Heavier birds such as Orpingtons, Barred Rock, Leghorn and Australorp can't usually get the energy together.
'Fancy' breeds like Polish and Silkies definitely don't want to get their feathers ruffled in flight!
If you live in a town and have a few hens in your back yard, your neighbours might not be terribly pleased that their lovely green lawn is being raked over by your marauding flock.
Chickens are ruthless when it comes to grass - they can clear a patch in minutes!
And they definitely won't be pleased that your girls have chomped down on their veggie patch, or used their lovely summer flower pots as dust-baths.
More importantly for your flock, though, is that flying can actually put them in danger.
Here's a story to explain why.
I had a problem. Our Red Star chickens love to free range - we have a lot of land - but our neighbour's dogs were constantly roaming onto our property and our chickens weren't safe.
I thought I could manage it by supervising them - and then, one day, the dogs got little Lulu.
We were lucky - I got to her in time and although she was badly bitten (and as you can see she lost a lot of tail feathers), she survived.
So I began to keep the flock in their run. It's a nice run - it overlooks a beautiful Italian valley. This is it, below.
But the chickens weren't happy. You know what they say - the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. They liked their run, but they liked to free range more.
So they flew. Red Stars are well known for it.
They flew over a six foot high fence. They flew in the morning and they flew in the afternoon.
I clipped one wing and they learned to fly with the other. I clipped both, and they hopped. Chickens can hop a long way, it seems.
This is a pic of Claudia chicken, who managed to get over the six foot fence with one wing clipped and landed safely on the compost heap.
I put them back in their run and they flew out again.
I tried to catch them and they flew into trees. I got them down and they perched on the roof.
Which proved to me beyond all doubt that not only can they fly - many chickens will do so at any given opportunity. It's in their nature.
And that's all fine except for ... well, you get the picture.
Flying chickens can be fun to watch - but you may have found that
they can cause problems, too. Unhappy neighbours, plants and
vegetable gardens destroyed, and worst of all the girls putting
themselves at risk of attack from the waiting mouths of predators.
What can you do?
There are different options available to you.
One is to put a cover - netting, for example - over the top of your run. That's entirely possible, depending on its size.
Another option is to clip their wings. Personally, I don't like taking any part of the body away from a living creature, but I decided - given that a six foot fence didn't stop them and my run is much too big to cover with netting - it was the only option to prevent my girls from flying into danger.
It's not the answer for everyone, but it worked for me.
Clicking on the pic below will take you to a page showing you exactly how easy it is to clip chickens' wings - and it doesn't hurt them a bit. And if you're interested to know more about the Famous Flying Red Stars, here's a link to that page too. Enjoy!
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