Chickens seem to attract a lot of interesting questions. Why did the chicken cross the road? What came first, the chicken or the egg? You can ponder the answers to these questions for countless hours and never come up with more than a cheesy punchline that’s probably not even funny.

But here’s a question regarding chickens that can actually be answered: why can’t chickens fly?

Pretty much everyone has seen a chicken at some point in their life, but have you ever seen a chicken fly? Chickens can fly but have been selectively bred for generations to not maintain this trait; therefore, domesticated breeds are terrible at flying. But why is this?  These are the valuable questions plaguing society, so let’s see what the science says.

chicken feet divider

Can Chickens Actually Fly?

So, here’s the funny thing, chickens can fly! Seriously, they can, they’re just usually not very good at it. They do have wings though, and they can take off, flying up into the air before gliding down a short distance away. You’ll never see a domesticated chicken breed fly very far though.

The ancestor of chickens (the red junglefowl) is an excellent flyer though, capable of flying large distances through forests with relatively little issue. Their large wings in comparison to their body size allows them this ability.

Chickens That Fly Well

While all chickens can manage a bit of flight, some breeds are significantly better flyers than others. And it’s not just about breeds either; size plays a major role in a chicken’s ability to fly. That’s why bantams are generally pretty decent flyers. These chickens are much smaller than regular chickens, weighing between 1–2.5 pounds, which makes flight much easier for them.

Still, some full-sized breeds are also known to be pretty good at flying. Some of the breeds that can fly well include Yokohama, La Fleche, Leghorn, and Araucana.

How Far Can Chickens Fly?

While chickens can fly, they’re not performing cross-country migrations that span hundreds or thousands of miles like a duck or goose! Even the best flyers in the chicken world are sub-par flyers at best, and the heavier the bird or the smaller the wings, the worse they tend to fly. Smaller chickens fare best at flight, with some bantams managing to fly distances of 50 feet. Of course, they’re not getting very high. A chicken that flies 50 feet might only manage 10 feet of height before gliding down over a distance.

While many full-size chickens can achieve decent flight, some of the larger ones do little more than jump. Large breeds like Orpingtons and Wyandottes barely get more than a foot off the ground when they “fly”. Other breeds essentially forego the experience altogether, such as Silkies.

Chicken flying
Image Credit: TTstudio, Shutterstock

The Modern Domesticated Chicken

There are good reasons why modern domesticated chickens don’t fly well, and none of them are accidental. Humans bred chickens to have certain traits that make them more desirable as livestock. When it comes to meat production, it pays to have plump, fat chickens that weigh as much as possible. Of course, all that weight doesn’t aid the chicken in flight!

Despite their extra size, chickens might have still evolved larger wings to escape predators if it was necessary. But chickens are raised in the care of humans who protect them from predators, so flight was unnecessary for these birds, and over time, selective breeding resulted in birds of larger size while their wings remained small. Even breeds raised for their eggs were preferred to be non-flyers so that they would lay their eggs in close proximity to where they were housed.

chicken feet divider

Last Thought: Why Can’t Chickens Fly?

When it comes down to it, there are two simple reasons why most domestic chickens are terrible flyers. Their bodies are too large and heavy for their small wings to lift in the air. Humans selectively bred chickens for size and weight, prizing the heaviest, fastest-growing specimens; not the ones that could fly the highest or farthest.

Because of this, modern domesticated chickens are large, heavy birds with wings that are too small and inadequate for long-distance flight.

Featured Image Credit: DuyCuong1080, Pixabay