Ask your average person whether or not chickens can fly, and they might show a moment of hesitation before answering.
It seems that plenty of people think chickens are flightless, and those who do know that chickens can fly rarely think that they can fly well.
This latter part, at least, is true: compared to many other birds, chickens don’t fly well at all.
But most domestic breeds are still capable of flight, if only on a limited basis, though there are some capable of pretty amazing feats once they get airborne! So, just how far and how high can our chickens fly?
A typical, medium size domestic chicken that is capable of flight can usually reach heights of about 10 feet off the ground, and cover at least 30 feet of distance while airborne. Some can go much farther and higher.
As one would expect there are a lot of variables to consider, including the breed, size, weight, and health of the chicken and of course whether or not its wings are clipped.
That being said, chickens that are capable of flight can make life very, very difficult for their keepers.
You’ll need to know exactly what you can expect out of your flight-capable chickens if you want to contain and this article will tell you all about it.
I Thought Chickens Couldn’t Fly?
A lot of people think the same, but it just isn’t true, or at least it is mostly untrue.
There are certain species of chickens and lineages bred for a specific purpose that have truly lost all flight capability.
Most of these are ginormous monstrosities that are bred for industrial meat production, and they don’t even attempt to fly.
But with these outliers removed, most domestic breeds are indeed capable of flight.
Even the ones that are capable of very limited flight can still use the ability to clear fences, hop out of enclosures, climb trees, and generally make a nuisance of themselves.
About How Far Can a Chicken Fly?
The distance that a chicken can cover while in flight varies greatly depending on a few prevailing factors, some inherent to the chicken and others not.
Again, on average, expect your average domestic chicken to clear a few dozen feet while airborne, let’s say anywhere from 30 to 50 feet or so. Some can go farther, while others will not be able to go as far.
This, once again, is a function of the size and weight of the chicken as well as their body-to-wing ratio.
The chicken’s overall fitness and flight characteristics also play into this, but so too do the conditions before takeoff.
Chickens that get a running start, have a supporting tailwind, or are just trying to glide downhill we’ll be able to cover a much longer distance reliably.
How High Can a Chicken Reach?
The height that a chicken can attain while flying is highly variable, again with an average of about 10 feet.
Many of your larger breeds, and quite a few breeds and the medium spectrum of birds, can only achieve hops of about four to five feet high.
Well, this is still more than adequate for escaping fenced enclosures that don’t have a roof or netting over them, it might allow them to clear taller obstacles by leaving from one vantage point to the next.
That being said, a chicken that is capable of flying 10 feet or even more into the air can basically go wherever it wants.
It can easily reach low branches and trees and go higher from there, hop up onto the first-story eaves of your home, or jump right over all but the tallest privacy fences.
And don’t think this is a maximum “operational ceiling” or anything like that!
There are plenty of videos on the internet of domestic chickens easily flying clear up to the ridge on the roof of a two-story house just like they were born there.
The best advice I can give you is to always assume your chickens can fly quite high unless you are absolutely certain that they cannot.
Some Breeds, and Individual Chickens, Are Better Fliers than Others
As mentioned several times already, some chicken breeds are just a whole lot better at flying than others.
Explaining why these breeds are superior fliers is an entire scientific dissertation in and of itself, but the short version is that over time domestic breeds of chicken have lost or experienced degradation of their flight characteristics, both the musculature, body ratios, and feathers necessary for sustained flight.
One of the most reliable rules for determining how well a domestic chicken breed can fly is to assess how close it remains to its nearest wild ancestor, the red jungle fowl.
These wild chickens, as it were, are excellent flyers compared to their domestic cousins, and the nearer our domestic birds are to these wild ones the better flight capability you can rely on them to have.
In any case, the following breeds are known far and wide among keepers and enthusiasts for being dependable or even excellent flyers, so buyers beware!
- Czech Blue Splash
Some Other Breeds are Basically Flightless
And as you might have already guessed from the preceding section some breeds, by luck or design, have very little or even no flight capability, even at the peak of health.
These birds, be it due to their great size and weight or just maladapted flight muscles and feathers, can usually only clear a couple of feet off the ground at most.
Some of these breeds, in fact, are so bad at flying that the birds don’t even really attempt to, even in self-defense.
If you desire a breed that you can count on to stay put, where you put it, consider the following.
- Jersey Giant
- Rhode Island Red
Some Chickens Have Proven to Be Exceptionally Good Fliers!
Now, before you go making plans for a fence that is so high based on how high your chickens are supposed to be able to fly, hear me out.
There always exist exceptional chickens in any breed. Some chickens are full of surprises, especially when it comes to flight, and are more than capable of flying right up to the top of a tree or even right up to the top of a two or three story building, as mentioned previously.
You don’t want to find this out the hard way, but on the other hand, you can’t always make a chicken fly by some stimulus, either.
Keeping your chickens contained, be it in their run or just on your property if you allow them to free range, is important for their health and safety, and also important for your peace of mind.
My recommendation is this, assuming you have any breed that you are not 100% positive cannot fly: clip their wings.
Clipping a chicken’s wings does not mutilate it, despite the suggestion of the term. Clipping a chicken’s wings only trims its primary flight feathers in such a way as to eliminate or greatly reduce its ability to fly.
Done correctly and with some skill, this does not hurt or traumatize the bird at all, and the feathers will regrow eventually, necessitating another trim.
Only by doing this can you be 100% sure that your chickens won’t take to the wing in order to go wherever their whims take them.
Don’t Depend on Chickens Flying to Reach the Coop Door or Roost
On the other hand, if you are just fine with your chickens flying, or even encourage the practice, you still should not depend on them flying in order to get where they need to go, be it up onto a roost, in or out of an elevated coop door or into their nesting box.
Sticking the landing always places stress on a chicken’s muscles and skeleton, and greatly increases the chances of abrasion and other injuries to feet. This will, in turn, lead to increased medical costs for you and a stressed flock in general.
It’s great if your birds can fly and are allowed to, but you should still make things easy on them, and easier on yourself, by providing them with ramps and other methods to walk or hop where they need to go instead of having to resort to flight.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.