One of the defining factors of birds is their wings and, thus, their ability to fly. But despite that, there are many birds across the world who cannot fly. For the most part, birds who cannot fly are like that due to evolutionary reasons. For example, the kiwi bird in New Zealand adapted to be flightless because they had no predators on land but many in the sky - they were simply safer when they didn’t fly.
But where do chickens fall on this spectrum? It seems unusual to see chickens fly, but does that mean they are indeed flightless? Read on to find out more.
So, Can Chickens Fly?
Let’s start with a potentially unknown fact: chickens are descendants of dinosaurs! Along with ostriches and several other species, chickens evolved over time from the mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex - which may even have had feathers when young. Research suggests that the first bird may have evolved from dinosaurs some 160 million years ago, likely when the animals took to the trees for food or protection.
So, knowing that chickens came from wingless, land-roaming creatures who then formed wings and started flying is even more interesting when we consider that it’s unusual to see chickens fly. But does that mean they can’t?
Unsurprisingly, the answer is a bit complicated. In Southeast Asia, where you can find them in the wild, chickens (or red junglefowl) are able to take short flights. However, the birds we have in the UK (which are predominantly on farms) have many differences from these wild birds.
These differences mainly come from centuries of breeding, which has made chickens’ legs and breasts more bulky. With that being the case, many modern chickens in the UK struggle to fly even though they are anatomically capable.
That doesn’t mean you won’t see them trying and sometimes succeeding, though, so keep a watchful eye and consider preventative escape methods.
Why Do Chickens Fly?
Talking evolutionarily, chickens fly for the same reasons every creature capable of flying does: to escape predators or to find food. When chickens and other birds evolved from dinosaurs, they would have realised that competing for food sources on the ground led to a far higher chance of starvation. However, higher up in the trees, there was less competition.
Also found in the trees was protection - whether from the same ground animals they fought for food with or from larger carnivorous animals that saw them as dinner. Flying simply gave early birds a better chance of life. As Darwin famously surmised, survival of the fittest.
However, modern chickens have something that their early ancestors may not have had: intelligence, curiosity, and cunning. It’s one of the reasons why keeping your chickens adequately enriched is so important: if they get bored, they might wander. Or, rather, fly.
Your chickens may have detected another food source, spotted an object of interest, or taken a liking to another animal on the farm. Whatever the reason, if you’re not careful, your chickens will attempt - and sometimes succeed - at taking flight and leaving the coop.
How Far Can Chickens Fly?
How far a chicken can fly depends on several factors. Their breed and genetics, the level of freedom and space they have in their housing or outdoor area, and their weight and health all play important parts in whether your chickens can even get off the ground.
Due to the centuries-long breeding programme to make chickens bulkier (for human consumption), many common types of chicken are incapable of flying. However, some smaller breeds can and will take flight. The most common chicken in the UK that can fly is the bantam chicken, and they have been known to escape over low fencing many times.
Excitingly, there is a world record for chicken flights. As it currently stands, the longest chicken flight in the world is an impressive 13 seconds across a massive 92 metres. But don’t worry; your poultry farm chickens are highly unlikely to be able to achieve anything close to that. If they can get off the ground, they’ll be unlikely to go more than several metres.
How High Can Chickens Fly?
Unlike distance, there does not seem to be any record of how high a chicken can fly. However, given the average weight of domesticated farm chickens in the UK, it's unlikely your chickens will be able to fly more than a couple of metres in the air.
A good way of thinking about it is to use weight: the larger the bird, the less likely they are to get off the ground. The smaller the bird, the higher they will be able to go. The only exception to this rule is for chicks. While they are the lightest birds in the flock, they are just learning to fly when young. By the time they know how, they will probably be too heavy.
Can Chickens Fly Over Fences?
A particularly determined chicken will inevitably attempt to fly over the fencing you have placed around their coop. Whether or not they can pass over it depends on several factors, mainly how high your fence is.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Chickens Completely Flightless?
It's a common misconception that chickens are truly flightless. In fact, anatomically, they can fly like any other flying bird. It is uncommon to see a chicken fly due to the extra weight on their legs and breasts due to farming and breeding programmes for meat.
Why Can’t Chickens Fly Like Birds?
Despite having wings, it's very uncommon to see a chicken fly. Even when you do, it's low to the ground and over a short distance. Part of that is because of the extra weight they carry due to breeding for meat. Another reason is that evolutionarily, they only needed to escape into trees momentarily instead of migrating elsewhere like other birds.
Looking for Poultry Fencing? Shop Dalton Engineering!
If you work on a poultry farm, you won't be surprised to know that chickens can fly, but you might have been unaware of how far they can go when determined. To stop your chickens from escaping, ensure you surround their housing and outdoor areas with suitable fencing.
As poultry experts, we're confident that our collection of poultry fencing will do the trick. Take a look and get in contact for further information.