Modern-day chickens likely descended from the Southeast Asian red junglefowl, but have been domesticated for some 8,000 years. The chickens many are familiar with today have been bred for their eggs and meat.
Still, chickens are intelligent and intuitive birds, and many breeds retain their wild instincts. Here, we’re going to answer the question: can chickens fly?
Unless their wings are clipped, most chicken breeds can fly. However, it’s fair to say that the majority of breeds can’t fly well. Most chickens can fly well enough to hop a fence or fly across their pen or garden but can’t sustain flight for more than a few seconds.
There are exceptions to the rule. For example, game chicken breeds like the Old English Game and American Game Fowl are reasonably strong flyers, as are Hamburgs, Sumatras, and Araucanas, to name but a few.
In addition, lighter bantam chickens tend to be stronger fliers than heavier breeds, as they can take off easily due to their light weight.
Other heavy breeds can barely fly and some, like Silkies, can’t fly at all. Silkies don’t possess flight feathers. Heavy breeds like Orpingtons are simply too heavy to take off!
Read on to discover more facts about the flying abilities of these ubiquitous birds!
Most chicken breeds can fly, but only for short periods
The vast majority of chicken breeds can fly, but most can’t fly well. However, most breeds can take off from the ground and flap their wings enough to hop a small fence or evade threats.
Chickens kept as free range or game tend to be better flyers, as they have to roam their larger environments. Some strong flying breeds prefer to roost in trees and buildings than on the floor.
Some chicken breeds that can fly well include:
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Most bantam and lightweight chicken breeds are also confident of flight.
Some of these breeds definitely challenge the notion that “chickens can’t fly.”
For example, Sumatran chickens are known to fly from island to island, whereas Japanese bantams are very confident flyers that will happily fly for fun.
It’s worth pointing out that chickens often lose their desire and instinct to fly. Young and juvenile chickens tend to fly more, probably out of curiosity.
However, once they reach adulthood, many chickens simply choose not to fly and have no interest in it. After all, chickens are fundamentally ground-dwelling birds and don’t need to fly to survive.
Chicken keepers don’t normally need to clip wings unless the chickens have a habit of escaping.
Close up of two Hamburg hens
Most chickens aren’t strong or confident flyers, but virtually every breed can fly short distances. A handful of chicken breeds are bad at flying even by chicken standards - or rarely choose to fly.
For example, Orpingtons are very heavy - weighing as much as 4.5kg - and simply don’t have the strength to take off and sustain flight. They’re only really capable of jumping a foot or two off the floor.
The same goes for Australorps and Plymouth Rocks. Silkies have atypically fluffy plumage and don’t really have any flight feathers, rendering them practically incapable of flight.
Whether or not a chicken will choose to fly depends on the individual chicken as well as the breed. Some chickens enjoy trying their luck at flying - even if they’re not very good at it! So, regardless of the breed, it’s important to keep an eye on your chickens to see if they could possibly escape their pens.
Close up of an Orpington chicken
Some of the strong flying chickens listed above can fly a few hundred meters without stopping, but most can’t fly far at all.
For example, the Old English Game regularly flies if left to roam its environment free range, whereas Sumatrans are known to fly from island to island.
The original jungle fowls, of which there are 5 species, can all fly reasonably well. Many of these chickens roost in trees to avoid predators.
However, most chicken breeds can only fly a few meters at the most. For example, heavy egg-laying breeds such as Orpingtons and Plymouth Rocks are only really capable of jumping to heights of 4 to 6ft or so.
Lohman-Brown Chicken breed
Some chicken keepers and breeders have time-trialed their chickens to see how fast they are - the top speed of a flying chicken seems to range between 7 and 12mph.
Chickens can also run quite quickly, attaining top speeds of 10mph or so. That’s faster than an average human can run - which is around 7 to 8pmh! A chicken can probably only sustain that sort of speed for a second or two, though!
Chickens are not capable of high-altitude flight. In fact, most breeds can only reach weights of 4 to 6ft (1.2 to 1.8m) off the ground. However, some breeds roost in trees and rafters above that height.
Strong flying chickens are definitely capable of flying higher than 6ft. Chicken keepers report their free-range chickens flying over hills and trees. This is the exception rather than the rule - most chickens are capable of only limited flight.
Wyandotte hen that has jumped/flown on top of the hen house
Considering how many chicken breeds there are, it’s tough to nail down a precise figure for how long chickens can fly.
According to some internet sources, the longest flight recorded for a “modern chicken” is 13 seconds for a distance of just over three hundred feet. It seems likely that some strong-flying breeds can fly for longer than this, though.
Chickens descended from jungle fowl, a group of five species of chicken-like birds which live across Asia and Oceania. Jungle fowl are undoubtedly capable of flight and are not considered flightless birds.
Chickens have been selectively bred into what they are today - but they’re still not flightless birds. Virtually all chickens are capable of flight, even if just for a few seconds. That’s still a few seconds longer than genuine flightless birds like ostriches, Emus, kiwis, and cassowaries!
However, some breeds of chicken have small wings or lack flight feathers. One example is the Silkie, whose fluffy plumage means it can barely fly at all, as it has no flight feathers!
Chicken keepers often clip their wings to ensure they can’t escape their pens, but this isn’t always necessary as many chickens simply choose not to fly as they have no interest in it.
But ultimately, in evolutionary and biological terms, all chickens have wings, and most can fly.
Silkie chicken amongst the grass
Some baby chickens start learning to fly after just a few days, at which point they'll start flapping their wings to propel themselves. After a couple of weeks, baby chickens can typically lift a couple of feet off the ground.
Baby chickens often fly more than adults. But, after a while, they lose their desire to fly. Chickens mostly live and forage on the ground, hence why they’re not naturally strong fliers.
After a while, they choose not to fly, not because they can’t fly, but because they don’t want or need to.
The chick of a chicken in flight
Modern-day chickens don’t migrate and spend most of their time on the ground. Free-range chickens do disperse across their range but are quite sedentary.
Wild jungle fowl are not known to migrate but disperse across their habitats. These ground-dwelling birds don’t travel long distances, though.
Chickens can swim, and some enjoy it. Providing water for chickens enables them to drink, bathe, and even take a light swim.
It’s not entirely fair to say that domestic chickens can’t fly, but many breeds are poor fliers.
Chickens originate from jungle fowl, which are certainly capable of flight, despite being ground-dwelling birds. Domestic chickens have been bred for their meat and eggs and are generally much larger and heavier now than they were even a few hundred years ago.
This added weight has made it harder for chickens to take off and fly, especially in the case of the heaviest breeds. Moreover, inbreeding has caused some chickens to lose their flight feathers.
As illustrated by the film “Chicken Run,” it’s pretty easy to prevent most breeds of chicken from escaping their pens!
Many normal domesticated chickens can’t fly well, and a 4 to 6ft wire fence should prevent them from escaping. However, some chickens have a greater appetite for flying and jumping, especially those bred for game or exhibition purposes.
If you find your chickens constantly trying to escape, then consider clipping their wings.
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