One of the first questions most people ask when they’re considering getting backyard chickens; “can chickens fly over fences?”
You don’t want to lose your chickens, neither do you want to have to go off finding them, and you certainly don’t want them annoying your neighbors.
So, it’s important you know what you’re letting yourself in for when you raise backyard chickens.
To answer this question, there are two things you need to consider:
- How high is your fence?
- What breed of chicken do you have?
I will help you look into both of these points in a little more detail. But, to answer your question the best as I can - most chickens can fly over small fences a few feet high if they’re determined to do so.
Can Chickens Fly?
When you look at a chicken, it’s fairly obvious they’re birds. They have feathers, wings, beaks, and they look like birds.
This doesn’t mean they can fly, however.
In fact, chickens are not very good at flying at all. Chickens can do what’s known as ‘flight bursts’, which means they can just do short bursts of flight when they need to.
They’ll usually do this to get up into a tree to roost at night (or a roosting bar in their coop) or to escape predators in the wild.
That said, the longest recorded flight by a hen is 13 seconds in the air and she traveled 92 meters (300 feet).
This is far from normal though, you’ll be lucky if you ever see a chicken spend more than a couple of seconds in the air.
Realted - Here's why chickens have wings even though they can't fly.
How High up Can Chickens Fly?
Chickens are much better at performing a shot burst of flight upwards than they are over a long distance.
If you’ve ever seen them fly up into a tree, they can easily scale 6-10 feet when they’re determined to do so.
More often than not, however, they will need a little help from lower down branches to get higher up into a tree.
Being able to get up into a tree to sleep is one of the things that has helped chickens survive for thousands of years in the wild.
When they really need to get up into a tree or on top of their coop, a barn, or some other structure to feel safe - they’ll do it.
Why Chickens Are so Bad At Flying
So, if chickens have wings and feathers, why are they so bad at flying?
Well, there are two reasons for this;
- The first is that they didn’t evolve as birds with the need to fly for survival. Chickens are great at scavenging for food on the ground, and they take to the trees to avoid predators.
- The second reason is that humans have selectively bred chickens to be fatter for hundreds of years. Farmers and scientists have deliberately done this to make chickens produce more meat, for less cost.
The fatter we’ve made chickens, the harder it’s made it on them to fly. It’s basic animal physiology and, well, gravity. The heavier a chicken, the harder it is to get off the ground.
Which Chicken Breeds Can Fly the Best?
Some breeds are better at flying than others, so unless you intend to clip their wings, you should choose the least flighty breeds.
It’ll come as no surprise that the breeds that are the best at flying are typically the lightest ones.
Some of the breeds that are known to be better at flying - although they still can’t fly for any length of time - are:
- Norwegian Jaerhons
- Most Bantams (bantams are basically mini chickens and weigh a lot less)
Obviously, there are dozens of popular backyard breeds so this doesn’t cover them all. If you’re unsure whether or not the breed you’re interested in can fly, ask the breeders or hatchery you’re buying from.
Can Chickens Fly Over a 6 Foot Fence?
6 feet seems to be the height most chicken owners feel comfortable with. As long as there are no objects a chicken can use to hop up on, 6 feet is usually enough to keep them enclosed.
If you have a nice big area for your chickens to free-range, you can usually get away with a lower fence.
As long as your chickens have everything they need, typically they will not roam that far from their coop.
Clip Those Wings if You Want to Ground Your Chickens
Wing clipping is a common practice for domestic birds. It’s painless and simple to do - and as the name suggests, it involves clipping/cutting part of their wing (the feathers).
Once a chicken’s wings are clipped, they will not be able to fly anywhere near as well as they could before.
It all depends on the bird and how well their wings are clipped, but generally speaking, a clipped bird will barely be able to get more than 24” off the ground.
Not only does not having the feathers needed to fly physically stop them from flying, but they also learn that they can no longer get as high as they used to and will stop trying.
Wing clipping is common for backyard chicken owners that are concerned that birds are going to escape their yard. It’s something to ask your vet about, or you could even do it yourself.
Related - Read this for more information on when to dub a rooster.
Now you know how to keep your chickens safely enclosed in your yard. You can either clip their wings or build a 6-foot fence to be sure.
As a general rule, it’s better to be safe than sorry especially if you live in an urban area. If something spooks your chickens and they’re not properly enclosed, they will use their wings and flee if possible.
Image credits - Photo by Morgan Obami on Unsplash