Unlike most of their brethren, the chickens you take care of are largely flightless birds.
This poses the question: why do chickens have wings if they don’t use them to fly?
Chickens use their wings for several activities other than flying, including navigating obstacles and balancing. They also use their wings to cover chicks and communicate with other animals. At most, chickens may even fly very short distances but no more than a few yards.
This might make you wonder why they can’t fly or if they used to.
Keep reading, and we’ll go over all the questions you might have about why your domestic chicken can’t take to the sky.
Why Do Chickens Have Wings When They Do Not Fly?
Just like any other type of bird, chickens sport wings.
However, aside from a short burst of flight, they won’t use them the same way a pigeon or cardinal might.
Just because they don’t use them to fly doesn’t mean a chicken doesn’t have a lot of other uses for their wings.
A lot of this comes down to selective breeding.
Modern chickens have a different body mass ratio than their songbird cousins or even chickens in the past.
This is because humans have bred chickens to produce more meat at a faster pace.
The massive chicken breast sold in a store is thanks to selective breeding by chicken farmers and avian experts rather than natural, uninhibited evolution.
As a result, the chickens you see today, including breeds like the broiler chicken or Brahma chicken, grow and reach their full size more rapidly than chickens in the past.
This is great for farmers raising chickens for food, but this same breeding wasn’t focused on larger flight muscles.
With their modern mass to wing area, your chicken’s wings aren’t strong enough to carry them into flight.
Still, chickens have more power of flight than some other completely flightless birds such as ostriches or penguins.
They can still make it a few feet or even yards before they come back to earth, and they probably won’t fly high off the ground.
Like other flightless birds, though, chickens still depend on their wings for communication.
For instance, roosters often use their wings with one raised in a courting display to a female chicken.
Why Do Chickens Have Feathers?
Similar to their wings, you might wonder why your chicken has feathers if they don’t fly.
Feathers do a lot more for birds than just covering their wings or helping to propel them into flight.
For one, chickens use their feathers for warmth.
Much like your cat or dog has their fur to keep them warm.
The down feathers chicks have especially help to keep them warm.
This protective layer can protect them from other elements, such as water when it’s raining or harsh exposure when it’s sunny out.
This is only one use of feathers when it comes to flying and largely relies on one type of feather: primary feathers.
These are the feathers farmers clip when they don’t want a chicken to have the ability to fly short distances.
Did Chickens Use to be Able to Fly?
Selective breeding makes it sound like chickens could once fly. In a way, yes, they could.
At the very least, chickens could once fly better than they can now.
However, even before chicken anatomy started to noticeably change thanks to processes like selective breeding, chickens still weren’t the strongest flyers in their species.
Even if you jumped back in time, you wouldn’t see chickens flying very far or high, although farther and higher than a domesticated chicken.
Rather, chickens who lived outside of domestication still roosted similarly to how they do in your backyard but on a larger scale.
In between snacks on the ground, the birds would flit between low branches in the forest.
Since we’re talking about forests, those flights weren’t very far, and chickens still don’t tend to fly very high.
Can Chickens Fly if You Don’t Clip Their Wings?
While chickens can’t fully fly, their short flights can serve as enough to launch them over a fence, leading to an escape.
This is why many chicken farmers turn to clip their chickens’ feathers to limit their power of flight.
This process doesn’t hurt the chicken or their wings because you’re supposed to just clip the primary feathers to help get them airborne.
You have the option to do this yourself, but if you’re worried about accidentally making a mistake, another option is to ask an avian vet or farm animal expert to help you out.
Once the primary feathers are clipped, your chicken won’t be able to get airborne to attempt to escape!
This is particularly useful in smaller farms where you might have neighboring yards your chickens attempt to sneak into.
Depending on your chicken breed and their personality, they may or may not be interested in attempting to leave your yard.
Will My Backyard Chicken Fly Away?
Your chickens are safe in your yard as long as you have a high enough fence to accommodate them.
They aren’t going to take flight and fly into the sky, never to be seen again.
Yet, their ability to navigate obstacles with short flight instances can cause a problem for farmers.
Depending on your chicken, you might have to make sure your fence isn’t too short, so your chicken can still fly over.
Some chickens are fine with a simple perimeter fence, but persistent escape artists can call for a taller fence to keep your chickens from escaping.
A chicken is more cunning than you might think too!
Even if you have a 6’-foot fence, you’ll want to ensure you don’t leave anything stacked against it as they could easily scale to escape.
Not every chicken is the same, though.
While some will attempt to escape at any chance presented to them, some backyard chicken owners never have to worry about rounding up a loose chicken.