More and more people are raising chickens, particularly with the price of eggs skyrocketing year after year. But what happens if you raise chickens in a suburban area with short fences? Do you have to worry about your chickens flying off?
The short answer is that, yes, chickens can fly. How high and how far depends on the breed and the particular bird.
Some breeds can barely clear a foot off the ground for a second or so. Others can fly for hundreds of feet. So if escaping chicken escapades are a concern for you, the breed you choose is important. There are also things you can do to discourage flight, which we’ll talk about in just a bit.
Where Chickens Descended From
According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Livestock Division of Extension, chickens, which are classified as Gallus gallus domesticus are the descendants of two wild birds from Asia known as the Southeast Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus) and the Gray Junglefowl (Gallus sonnaratii).
The Sri Lanka Junglefowl (Gallus lafayetti) and the Green Junglefowl (Gallus varius) probably contributed along the way, as well.
Why does this matter? Because it tells us a little about what our modern chickens originally looked like. All of the Junglefowl that contributed to the modern chicken can fly pretty well.
Certainly not as well as, say, a peregrine falcon or a common swift, both of which are known for their fast flight. But they can take off from a standstill and fly hundreds of feet, though they can’t fly particularly high in the air. A few dozen feet or so is about all they can handle.
Modern chickens can’t fly that well. Most can only fly for a few seconds and only get a dozen or so feet into the air.
But don’t underestimate your backyard flock! Chickens have been recorded flying for as long as 13 seconds and as far as 300 feet. A few have been recorded as flying almost 30 feet in the air.
Which Breeds Fly Best (and Worst)
Any heavy breed is unlikely to be able to fly very far. Typically, any of the chickens categorized as “meat” birds won’t be able to take off and flap out of your yard.
Orpingtons, Wyandottes, Jersey Giants, Rhode Island Reds, Sussex, German Langshan, and large Brahmas probably aren’t going anywhere.
Watch out, though. Unless you want to encourage flight, Andalusians, Leghorns, Bantams, Lakenvelders, Ameraucana, Red Stars, and Old English Game chickens can fly fairly well.
Any chicken that has become feral, like the ones you’ll find in Hawaii, particularly on the island of Kauaii, will also be able to fly better than the heavier domesticated breeds.
Any chicken will try to fly if it feels threatened. They might not make it very far, but they’ll often scoot along the ground as they flap their wings, or they’ll hop up into the nearest tree. It’s not unheard of to find a chicken several feet up into a tree after a scare.
Some chickens will hop over a fence, given the chance. They aren’t trying to escape, necessarily, but they do like to explore a new area to try and find more food to forage. Usually, one brave chicken will pop over a fence or hedge and the rest of the flock will follow along.
Some chickens just don’t like to fly, regardless of the breed, and some will try to fly nonstop, no matter how poorly they manage it. Some chickens seem to enjoy trying to reach new and unusual places, while others never want to venture further than a few dozen feet from their home.
How to Discourage Your Chickens From Flying
For the most part, chickens aren’t big explorers. They don’t want to roam far and wide. They like to stick near their nests and roosts, but that doesn’t mean they won’t go check nearby areas out.
So how do you stop them from visiting the neighbor?
Many people opt to keep their chickens in an enclosed run. That doesn’t mean you should keep them locked up in their coop all day. Chickens need to roam. But if you give them a run, especially one that can be moved around the yard, they’ll be perfectly happy and they won’t be able to escape.
Not everyone has the room or the inclination to use a run, though. If that’s the case, and you don’t want your chickens escaping, you’ll need to clip their wings.
Clipping doesn’t hurt the birds, but it does make them a little more susceptible to predators. They can’t escape from a marauding cat or raccoon as easily without the ability, however poor, to fly.
To clip the wings, you’re just going to snip one side. That way, when the bird tries to fly off, it can’t get lift. Some birds manage to figure out how to fly with only one full-feathered wing, however. So you might find you have to clip both.
To clip, you’ll use a sharp pair of scissors. Have someone hold the bird wrapped in a towel so it can’t escape. Gently extend the wing and clip at least five of the larger feathers. Leave the two outermost feathers in place. This looks better, and these feathers tend to have the strongest blood flow.
Most chickens have about 10 flight feathers, which are the longest feathers on the wing. You need to cut at least half of these to keep your bird grounded.
Avoid the blood feathers, which are shorter. These will bleed if you cut them. Every feather has a shaft, which is the central part down the middle. Blood feathers have a dark shaft, which is full of blood, while flight feathers have a light shaft.
Also Read: Can Peacocks Fly?
Keep Your Birds Grounded
Whether you clip their wings, keep only heavy breeds, or confine them to a run, if you’re worried about your birds escaping, you’ll need to keep your chickens grounded.
That said, so long as they have enough room to scratch and look for food, most chickens won’t try to venture out of your space. This is especially true if you have solid, six-foot fencing. Chickens aren’t a “grass is greener on the other side” type of animal. They like to play it safe.
Keep them well-fed and your fence in good repair, and you shouldn’t have to worry about escapees.