Can chickens fly?

Ever wondered how it is that you put your flock in their run in the morning and by the time you've finished breakfast they're all over your back yard?

A chick flying against a blue sky.

You're standing there asking yourself "how in the world did that happen?"

There's a simple explanation. Chickens can fly! They're not good at it, they can't fly high and they can't fly far, but they will, if given the chance, test their wings from a very young age.

Why wild chickens fly.

It's a matter of survival. 

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. Staying on the ground would be far too dangerous.

If you've ever had light-bodied hens who have not got into the roost in time at night, you'll often find them sitting quite happily in a tree nearby. It's the remains of that inherited instinct to roost up high. 

How far can chickens fly?

Not far. 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 persuading a chicken to come down from a 30 foot high bay tree at dusk. Miss Marple was just showing me she could call the shots...

My Wyandotte hen, Miss Marple, roosted in my 30 foot high bay tree in the evening.

Can chickens fly over fences? 

They can.

Fencing a chicken run in the right way can make it more difficult for heavier breeds, but lighter breeds and bantams will fly over 6 foot fences with little problem.

In fact, some of my own Red Stars "flew" over my six foot high fence even after 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.

Chicken flying over a low fence.A low fence is no barrier for a determined chicken!

How high can chickens fly?

My Red Stars are very sociable. They love to come to the kitchen door for their breakfast every morning. And they will do anything to get there.

So I have personal experience of them flying between ten and twelve feet off the ground when they really want to get somewhere.

Not all are that energetic, though, and the heavier breeds won't be able to get anything like that high. My Light and Speckled Sussexes, Marans and Wyandottes don't bother trying to fly at all.

My bantams and Silkies, on the other hand, love to test their wings from an early age..

A flying Silkie chick.Silkie chicks will test their wings from a young age.

My Polish just watch with disdain. They think that flying is something less cultured birds do.

But for those breeds that like to fly, four feet is easy for them, for a short distance. Six is getting more difficult but still possible, even for the medium sized birds.

At what age can chickens fly?

From when they're just a couple of days old chicks develop wing feathers. And as little chicks, their body weight is light enough to start experimenting with using them.  

This little Wyandotte chick was flying around the room like an expert at just over one week old! In this photo, she was just four days old and already had well developed wing feathers.

Baby chick wing feathers growing at 4 days old.One of my Wyandotte chicks at just 4 days old. See how well her wings 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.

Which chicken breeds can fly?

Technically most can, but not all choose to. Some prefer it more than others and some are just too heavy ever to get their bodies off the ground.

Bantams are the best flyers: their small body makes it easier for them to take off! My bantam Sablepoots often roost in trees rather than joining the large breeds in the coop at night.

Lighter bodied breeds such as Araucanas are good flyers, and some just seem to enjoy flying. My own hybrid Red Stars just love to fly.

On the other hand my Leghorns, which are quite light, are happier foraging on the ground rather than flying.

Heavier birds such as Orpingtons, Barred Rock and Australorp can't usually get the energy together and 'fancy' breeds like Polish seem not to want to get their feathers ruffled in flight!

Polish chickens on green grass.My Polish chickens never wanted to fly even when they were very young.

Can chickens fly? What the answer means for you.

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.

Hens are ruthless when it comes to grass. They can clear a patch in minutes and turn the run into a mud bath!

And neighbours 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.

My devastated flower trough with three of my Red Star chickens using it as a dust bath and the flowers lying on the ground.My chickens turn my summer flower displays into a chicken spa!

More importantly for your flock, though, is that flying can actually put them in danger.

Here's a story to explain why.

Lulu's story.

I had a problem. My 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 flock was not safe.

I thought I could manage it by supervising them. And then, one day, the dogs got little Lulu.

Two Red Stars in my run, one with no tail feathers.Two of my Red Stars. Lulu, on the right, lost her tail feathers in a dog attack.

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. 

But the girls 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. 

My chickens flying onto the compost heap.

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 wings, and they hopped. Chickens can hop a long way, it seems.

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.

This is a pic of Claudia, who managed to get over the six foot fence with one wing clipped and landed safely on the compost heap.

There was only one solution...

What are the possible solutions for chickens who fly?

Flying hens can be fun to watch - but they can cause problems, too.  

Unhappy neighbours, plants and vegetable gardens destroyed, and worst of all, putting themselves at risk of attack from the waiting mouths of predators.

What can you do?

There are different options available. 

One is to put a cover – netting, for example – over the top of your run. That's entirely possible, depending on its size.

How to clip chicken wings - link.

Another option is to clip their wings. Personally, I don't like taking any part of the body away from a living creature.

But a six foot fence didn't stop them flying into danger, and my run is much too big to cover with netting.

So it was the only option to prevent my chickens from constantly flying into danger. 

It's not the answer for everyone, but it worked for me and it's worked for a lot of people who have watched my video of how to do it safely.

See the video and read more about exactly how easy it is to clip chickens' wings.

And be reassured: it doesn't hurt them a bit, any more than clipping your toenails hurts you.  

Other articles you may find useful.

Common backyard chicken problems - link to article.
How to securely fence the chicken run - click to go to article.
Raising chickens: a beginner's guide - link.
A review of the best automatic chicken feeder on the market - link.
From hatch to adult - what should chickens eat? Link.
Raising Chickens - step-by-step, month by month tasks - link.
Dustbaths for chickens - link.
How to free range chickens - and whether you should. Link.
Name that chick - link.
Link to Raising Happy Chickens home page.