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If you already care for backyard chickens, you may know that they are generally carefree birds – providing they have regular access to food, water and shelter. However, it’s understandable you may worry about whether or not they can escape – do backyard chickens fly away?
No, chickens cannot fly away. In fact, what they can do can’t even technically be called flying! Yes, they can jump relatively high (and far) with a good flap and the right motivation. However, they can’t physically ‘fly’ as you’d expect with most birds.
However, chickens are prey to many animals out there, and if they are completely free, they stand a chance of getting caught and even eaten. It’s not unheard of, either, for chickens to break free if they feel scared or find more interesting food elsewhere. Let’s take a closer look at how to keep your chickens safe.
Why can’t chickens fly?
It is predominantly due to the shape of the evolved backyard chicken that flight is impossible. Chickens are stout and squat creatures, and their wingspans simply won’t allow for sustained flight, let alone the thrust to get up in the air. (If you’ve ever seen the animated movie ‘Chicken Run’, you’ll know this already!)
Chickens can adopt a ‘burst flight’, allowing them to escape higher up to roost or find safety. Other birds such as pheasants and grouse use the same method of propulsion, but they never get very far.
Ultimately, chickens have evolved to live as ground animals, pecking around at seed and to use their feathers to warm up and protect their young.
How can I prevent backyard chickens from escaping?
Preventing chicken escapes is as simple as securing your yard or even clipping their wings. However, there’s some disagreement over how effective clipping can be when it comes to upholding your birds’ natural defenses.
As an essential measure, you will need to ensure that your backyard is completely closed – albeit with enough space for your free range chickens to run around in. While your chickens will not fly away, they can try to run away if something scares them.
Closing off your yard will also help keep certain other predators out, and it will help you better keep track of your chickens. Consider building fences of at least five or six feet as a first step.
Secondly, you will need to ensure that you have somewhere safe to house your chickens at night. Many chicken predators are more likely to come for them at night, such as cats, coyotes, or other nocturnal hunters. If a predator or two strike overnight, your chickens are predisposed to scatter – and if you’re asleep, you won’t be around to help them.
Ensure your chicken coop is large enough to house your brood during the night. In fact, if you ever plan on leaving your chickens for a weekend away, then it is best to invest in a chicken coop that is large enough to hold a hut for them and some extra outdoor space for them to roam around during the day.
The coop will need to be locked shut to ensure no predators can break in. It should have a sturdy, robust roof and wire meshing to prevent animals from getting in from underneath.
If you’re keeping free range backyard chickens for the first time, do keep an eye on them during their first few days free. Your yard will be very new to them, and they are naturally keen to explore. Get to know your brood before you make any assumptions!
Finally, installing motion detecting lights is an excellent idea if you are still concerned about predators. Most predators are likely to get spooked by sudden bright lights – especially nocturnal prowlers.
Should I clip my chickens’ wings to stop them from escaping?
Clipping chickens’ wings is a controversial process. While it’s unlikely to hurt them, and while it will certainly prevent them from getting too far, many believe it to be an inhumane process.
This is because chickens will still need a little feather to their wings should they need to escape predators or take a burst flight. Therefore, while you are clipping their wings to help keep them safe on the one hand, you may be putting them at enhanced risk from hunters.
Some chickens can still flap around with clipped wings, but it’s still likely to impact their ‘flight’ tendencies. It’s advisable to give your chickens safe coverage first.
Is it likely my chickens will escape?
Chickens are unlikely to travel far unless out of fear or out of sheer intrigue. Much of this decision-making will be on the spur of the moment. Providing you regularly keep your coop topped up on tasty food, fresh water, and keep your chickens company, there’s no real need for them to want to move on.
That said, chickens can jump high (as mentioned), which is why misconceptions of them ‘flying away’ exist. Take as few chances as you can, and ensure you have high walls or fences to prevent your hens from breaking free.
Therefore, keep your chickens happy and protected, and you likely won’t have to worry about a ‘great egg-scape’ anytime soon!