Have you ever seen a chicken in a tree? How about on top of a house? When I was a young girl, my family had a red rooster that loved to fly up and sit on the very top bar of my jungle gym, roughly eight feet off the ground. He shocked me the first time he did it. None of the hens in our little flock ever flew up that high.
Novice breeders often get caught off guard when their chickens fly off to lofty perches. Some set out straight away to build higher fences or completely enclosed runs. Potential backyard birders need to know, just how high can chickens fly? You may be surprised to find out the answer to this question depends entirely on the breed.
Some Chickens Can’t Fly
Chickens have little in common with bumblebees when it comes to seemingly defying the laws of aerodynamics. In general, the heavier and rounder a chicken’s body, the less likely it is to take to the air. Some other factors also come into play regarding the mechanics of flight. The length of a chicken’s wings, the strength of its flight muscles, its skeletal structure, and its plumage all affect how well it can fly.
Breeds such as Australorps, Orpingtons, and Plymouth Rocks can’t fly or can barely make it off the ground because they simply weigh too much. Silkies, on the other hand, are light birds that might otherwise be strong flyers if it were not for the fact that their feathers won’t hold together to form an airfoil. Malay chickens, meanwhile, are lanky, muscular birds that can’t fly because they have really short wings.
Other Chickens Fly Poorly
Some large, fluffy birds, such as Brahma chickens, Cochin chickens, Wyandotte chickens, and Rhode Island Reds have heavy bodies that do not appear to be flightworthy. But these birds can get off the ground, at least a little way. Large, heavy chickens like these can sometimes fly a few feet off the ground for very short distances. They are easily contained with relatively short fences.
Ornamental birds with unusual feathers may have trouble flying for a variety of reasons. The Onagadori chicken, which grows tail feathers up to 27 feet long, can only fly high enough to reach its roost. The Frizzle chicken, which has feathers that curve the wrong way and do not hold the air well, can fly only in short bursts to flee predators.
Many Chickens Fly High
Lots of chickens fly surprisingly high, at least as far as chickens are concerned. They can’t compete with songbirds, after all. But many breeds of chickens can easily fly up to 10 feet in the air or more. Chickens typically don’t fly long distances. Their flights usually have a purpose. They want to evade a threat, fly over an obstacle like a fence or wall, or fly up to a high perch or surface.
When chickens fly up and over an obstacle, their flight path usually follows a simple arc. They only stay in the air long enough to clear the hurdle and come back down, spanning a maximum distance between about 30 and 50 feet. Likewise, when they fly up to a perch they generally aim for their target and don’t spend time flying around.
Some breeds are much more flighty than others. Booted Bantam chickens, also known as Sablepoots, love to fly. Araucana chickens have long wings and tend to fly very well. Old English Game chickens and Leghorn chickens are strong birds and also excel at flying.
Ancestral Flying Abilities
Modern chicken breeds descended mostly from junglefowl. Red junglefowl can fly, but not so well. Green junglefowl, however, can fly exceptionally well. Records indicate that these birds often fly between islands in southeast Asia.
World’s Highest Chicken Flight
No records exist of the world’s highest chicken flight. Anecdotally, many backyard birders attest that some chickens can soar high above the 10-foot mark. Some even tell stories of chickens that fly 30 feet high or more, clearing the roofs of houses and making it way up into tall trees.
World’s Longest Chicken Flight
Dozens of sources online, from chicken pages to news magazines, have shared information about a world record-setting flight that supposedly happened in 2014. An unknown chicken, in an unknown locale, apparently flew a total of 13 seconds in the air and cleared a distance of 301.5 feet. Without proper references to confirm this sighting, this record seems to be a matter of conjecture.
The Guinness World Record for the longest poultry flight was set in 1985. A bantam chicken named Sheena reportedly set that record in Parkesburg, PA. The small chicken flew an amazing 630 feet, 2 inches, the length of roughly two football fields! The height Sheena reached was, unfortunately, not recorded.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © TomasSereda/iStock via Getty Images
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