Why Can’t Chickens Fly?

As a little girl, I used to always be around chickens whenever I would visit my grandparents. My grandfather grew them and took care of them as a hobby, his entire backyard was full of chicken coops and even had a chicken shed. Because back home we live in a tropical island, there were also lots of trees in the backyard. In my childish deductions and observations, something struck me as particularly odd: the fact that chickens preferred to walk around the ground instead of flying and perching themselves on the trees. Well, I reasoned, chickens are the most useless birds ever, then. However, as I grew up and took interest in other things, I completely forgot about my chicken dilemma and accepted it as a fact that chickens cannot fly.

This is not true, chickens can actually fly! Just not very high up like normal birds can. It is not like there is a select gene that is responsible for a chicken’s inability to properly fly. Moreover, it turns outred-jungle-fowl that domesticated chickens are not actually natural, and they are the result of selective breeding and the hybridization of a red junglefowl and a gray junglefowl, whose existences date back almost 4,000 years ago. Although junglefowls are a little bit more skilled in flying than chickens, they are better adapted to living on the ground; their wings are smaller, their beaks are made for pecking, and their feet are not necessarily made for perching on trees. Because of this, chickens inherited the physical structure of a junglefowl, give and take a few alterations.

Humans protect and breed chickens, therefore, the evolutionary line did not call for them to evolve into animals with bigger, stronger wings. Nor did it call for the elongation of their feet for perching purposes. So, in reality, domesticated chickens do not necessarily need to fly at high altitudes because they can scour for their food on the ground and generally do not need to protect themselves from predators (1). Furthermore, the disproportionality between their body and their wing size makes it incapable for their wings to support their body weight for a long amount of time. As mentioned before, chickens are also the result of selective breeding. Because of select breeding, chickens have bigger pectoral muscles than junglefowls, decreasing the chances of being able to fly at high altitudes for extended periods of time even more.

Human interference has literally created chickens and, ultimately, assigned their role as a means of providing food. Mainly, chickens are bred for laying eggs and consumption. This process has adverse negative side effects, including chickens losing the ability to walk and becoming lame, restriction on food intake, and brittle bones. These factors contribute to a chicken’s inability to fly, as well as intentionally forcing them to evolve less like birds and more like inanimate pieces of meat. This selective breeding and lack of evolution for survival, as well as their predecessors, are the reasons as to why chickens cannot fly. 

(1) However, in the case that they would need to, their wing structure would allow them to fly a short distance, far enough to reach safety in a tree’s lower branches.

Source 1  Source 2  Source 3  Source 4

8 thoughts on “Why Can’t Chickens Fly?

  1. Candace Burke

    I found this article very interesting. I honestly didn’t know that chickens could fly. Humans seem to be acting as “gods” in how chickens are evolving. I was wondering if besides the adaptations you said if you found any research on how their body types are changing making flying harder for the birds. For example, I feel like chickens have a similar body type to ostriches and they do not fly either. Both birds seem to have bigger bodies which make them heavier. Chickens certainly do not look as buoyant as mockingbirds.

    1. Arianna L Del Valle Post author

      Hi Candace! Chicken body types actually do influence their ability to fly: because chickens have big pectoral muscles, their wings cannot fully support their entire body weight. This, combined with the fact that chickens are selectively bred to have more meat for human consumption, make it hard for them to fly. And you’re right, ostriches have long and powerful legs, which make it possible for them to escape predators with their running speed- this can explain why they don’t really need to fly. As for the mockingbirds, they’re small and light, completely opposite from chickens! I think because their size is so small and the structure of their beak is designed to reach inside plants, they need flying more than chickens do.

  2. Gulianna E Garry

    I thought this was an interesting topic, but I think you could take it one step further. Maybe talk about why some birds are classified as a bird but do different things than other birds. For example, the penguin. It is considered a bird; however it doesn’t fly and acts different than your ‘average’ birds. Here is a little bit about penguins and what they classify as.

    1. Arianna L Del Valle Post author

      Hey Gulianna! That’s an interesting proposition. That would make a really good blog post, noting the differences between birds and why they’re like that. Could these flightless birds be categorized into another family altogether? Thanks for your insight!

  3. Kameron Villavicencio

    Why interesting… I don’t think I actually ever questioned a chicken’s flight- if they could? Why they don’t? I don’t think I ever took notice. Also is “lame” a scientific term I do not know if did you just call chickens lame like uncool? I often find commenting as posts like this difficult. It is a very interesting post, and I commend you for taking the time to write it, but I personally don’t know how to “contribute to the scientific discussion” any further, as the graders would like me, too. I would perhaps suggest that you bring studies that have been done into this. I’m sure there are at least observational studies done that follow chickens behavior. In fact, I googled “scientific studies with chickens”, and came across an interesting Wikipedia page, entitled “Chicken as biological research model. You mention that chickens are lame and only used as food and for food (eggs), but this page talks of the extensive use of chickens and their eggs for research in biology. Maybe look at these studies?


    1. Arianna L Del Valle Post author

      Hi Kameron! Thanks for your comment. When chickens can’t walk properly, they are referred to as “lame,” but that doesn’t mean they’re not cool! As for the suggestion, that’s definitely interesting. I mainly provided the examples of chickens being used as food to further explain why they don’t evolve and, consequentially, don’t have the need to fly as much as some other birds. However, I will do more research and consider updating my post with that. Thanks!

  4. Sabrina Chan

    Interesting article! The text is a little hard to read on top of the picture. You should relate this more to material we learned in class.

    Honestly, it’s okay to me that chicken can not fly (high). They’re delicious either way. What’s interesting to me is that planes can’t really become more efficient in flying, even though nature has already figured it out via birds. https://www.wired.com/2012/10/can-we-build-a-more-efficient-airplane-not-really-says-physics/ I wonder if, in the future, planes will become more efficient? It doesn’t seem possible now, but many things that have become a reality weren’t thought of as possible in the past. (The one speaker in class spoke about this.)

    1. Arianna L Del Valle Post author

      Hey Sabrina! The issue with the text on top of the picture can be fixed if you refresh the page- it’s happened to me quite a lot! With the suggestion in the previous comment, I’ll try to update my post and use terms learned in class(I kind of struggled with that a bit here, but I thought the topic too interesting to pass up).

      I never really wondered why planes can’t become more efficient at flying, but it’s an interesting question. Definitely something to look into, thanks!

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