With all of those chickens in your coop, you’ve probably wondered at one point or another, if chickens can actually fly. Better yet, if they can fly, they might just run away too! Luckily for us, theres a good reasons why chickens won’t fly or run away.
Although chickens have wings, they aren’t truly able to fly more than a few feet due to their disproportionate body size. When chickens feel threatened, they run for the nearest shelter, whether it be their coop or bushes and shrubs. As long as they’re in a coop, chickens can’t fly or run away.
If you own chickens, you could be rightly concerned about having your animals run off. Maybe you’d like to let them go free range to scavenge and help rid the yard of pesky bugs like slugs and ticks. Whatever the reason, we will go over the several reasons why chickens don’t run away!
Why Can’t Chickens Fly or Run Away?
Once chickens feel safe and have a place to roost every night, they won’t run away from their home. They do like to explore and scavenge for food, but they will stay relatively close to their roost.
Chickens want to be in a safe environment at night so they will come home at night.
Chickens also group together, so if you are introducing new chickens to the group, they will learn where they can explore and where home is located easily.
Chickens Can’t Fly Very Far
Once upon a time, many thousands of years ago, relatives of chickens could fly like pheasants and grouse. While they were being domesticated, we selectively bred chickens to have larger breast muscles because people wanted more meat.
Bigger flight muscles should mean better flight, right? Birds have to maintain a certain ratio of weight to feathers for flight, and chickens are a bit too dense to sustain it. Their wings are too short for their bodies as well, so chickens cannot fly in a general sense.
While they can achieve a bit of lift to get over short fences or fly for a few yards, chickens just don’t have the strength or endurance to stay airborne for long. Adolescent chickens, before they fill out fully, can fly just a little better than their adult counterparts.
Once they are full-grown, they will rely on their sturdy legs to get around more often.
Clipped Wings Stop Chickens From Taking Full Flight
Chickens are notorious escape artists. If there is a way out of their coop, they will often find a way if they think there are delicious treats on the other side. Depending on the breed, some chickens can clear 4 or 6-foot-tall fences with a proper flap. To prevent those escapes, you can clip their wings.
Clipping a chicken’s wings does not harm them if it’s done the correct way. All you are doing is cutting the flight feathers shorter, so they can no longer achieve any type of lift.
As long as you don’t cut them too close, you will cause no harm to your chicken, and the feathers will eventually grow back.
There are breeds of chickens able to vault over a 6-foot fence, though your average chicken won’t be able to come close to this. Clipping the wings is a way to prevent this. You only have to clip one wing to put them off balance enough so they don’t fly.
When you have your chicken in your arms, stretch out one wing. You’ll see the long, primary feathers at the end. These 8 to 10 feathers will be the longest and widest.
The feathers are tough so you will want a sharp pair of scissors. With the chicken securely held in your arms, stretch out one wing, you’ll notice the primary feathers because they are longer than all the others. Next, trim them off a little more than halfway up the wing.
When your chicken molts, the feathers will grow back and you’ll have to clip them again. Chickens typically molt once a year.
Chickens Like to Stay Close to Home
Once chickens know where their roost is, they will stay close by. Their shelter is where they feel safe and they won’t want to wander too far away. After they establish a routine, and they feel safe, they will often leave the roost to forage and explore at daybreak, then return when it gets dark.
Chickens that are new or have been recently moved will need time to adjust to the new surroundings. For most chickens, this only requires a few days or possibly a week at most. During this time, it’s best to keep them contained in the roost or pen area.
Chickens are essentially homebodies. Once they feel safe, they won’t explore too far away. This doesn’t mean they won’t wander into the neighbor’s yard if it is close by. They don’t understand boundaries very well unless there is a fence to keep them in.
Chickens Want to be Home Before Dark
While chickens like to explore during the day, they will return when it gets dark. Chickens want to be in a safe area when they sleep.
Colorado.gov says you should train your chickens to get back to the coop every night. Once they are in, be sure to close it off.
When you raise them from chicks, they will always return to the coop after running around during the day. Make sure the coop is safe from predators once the chickens have settled in for the night.
Chickens are creatures of habit, and once they get into the routine of coming back to the roost, they will do so like clockwork. At first, you may have to train them to come back, but once they think it’s their idea, you won’t have to do anything.
The best way to bring them back into the coop is to tempt them with treats or food they particularly like that they don’t get all the time. Fresh, green, leafy vegetables are a good way to get them to come running, or you can use these Grubblies – Healthier Than Mealworms for Chickens as a tempting treat.
Once you have your chickens returning to the roost every day, you won’t have to do anything to get them to come back. If you have new chicks, they will follow their mother wherever she goes, and if you get new chickens, they will stick to the routine your original chickens have set.
Chickens Like to Explore, But Not Too Far
Chickens don’t like to be confined to small areas. They have a natural tendency to graze on grasses, greens, insects, worms, and slugs. Once they are used to the area, they don’t run off too far.
Since they are curious little creatures, they will probably end up getting into areas you’d rather they did not. Especially if they think there are goodies waiting for them. To keep them from getting into the neighbor’s yard, or your garden, you will probably have to fence it in.
Some chickens are content to explore open spaces if they have plenty of space and things to graze upon. To keep them contained in a certain area or away from others, you could try 4’ fencing or chicken wire.
You can also plant certain herbs or flowers that repel chickens such as rosemary, but if you have to keep chickens out, you’ll probably have to fence it in with a 6’ tall fence.
Another alternative that may be effective at keeping chickens out of certain areas is to use an automated, motion-detecting sprinkler like this Havahart 5277 Motion-Activated Animal Repellent & Sprinkler, or use predator decoys such as this Dalen Fake Owl Scarecrow Decoy.
The thing about predator decoys is that chickens will eventually figure out they are fake if the decoy remains in the same place all the time. You’ll have to move them periodically to continue to repel the chickens.
Roosts Provide Saftey For Chickens
Safety is important for chickens. Once they have deemed their roost as safe, they will stay pretty close to it, and they will always return there to sleep unless something physically prevents them from doing so. When scared, chickens will run to the nearest place of safety, whether that’s under some shrubs or to the roost.
Sometimes you may not even be able to get the chickens to leave the roost, especially if something frightened them or they were attacked. If a chicken has been scared badly enough, they might stay in the coop for several days.
Alternatively, if you can’t get your chickens to go back into the roost, check it for predators, mites, or maybe it needs a good cleaning.
There could be a rat or snake hiding in the roost, which would prevent them from returning. Chickens also won’t return if there are mites interrupting their rest.
You’ll have to inspect the roost to find out why your chickens don’t want to return. If you suspect mites, treat the area properly. Chickens don’t like a dirty coop either. If there is a buildup of poop, you’ll have to clean it out.
Chickens Like To Stay With Their Flock
The flock usually stays together. Chickens feel safe in numbers, so they will stay close together. After you have them trained to stick around the home base, the entire group will stick together.
All you need are a few chickens who know where home is and they return there every night. Then you can introduce more chickens to the group if you so desire. The new chickens will stick with the group and follow their routine.
If something chases them or frightens them, your chickens could get separated. When this happens, they will group back together once the danger has passed. Then they will probably return to the coop for a little while.
How to Keep Chickens on Your Property
When you first start out owning chickens, you probably shouldn’t just let them roam. They will need some time to get used to their new surroundings. Start them out in their coop or runs for at least a few days to a week, so they know the coop is a safe place to stay.
Once you feel it’s a good time to let your chickens out, start when it’s only an hour or two before dark. Chickens like to be home and sheltered at night, then they get up when the sun rises. Letting them out when it is almost dusk is a good way to condition them to return to the roost, and it keeps them from wandering too far.
To coax them into the coop, use treats or foods your chickens like. While doing this, you can also train them to come with a whistle or your voice if you so desire. Consistent training with these SunGrow Farm Pet Training Clickers and Whistle will help train your chickens to come to you when called.
Continue doing the evening outings with your chickens until they return on their own. Once they have a good routine going, you can start letting them out earlier in the day if you desire. Chickens have a great sense of timing, and once they return at night, you could probably set your watch to it.
As long as your chickens feel safe, and there is plenty of food around, they won’t eagerly run off. Keep the coop cleaned out regularly, and offer plenty of supplemental food, and your chickens will make your yard their home.
If you’d like, you can read more about the foods that chickens like in our article: 30 Incredible Facts About Chickens (And Things You Didn’t Know)!
5 Reasons Chickens Run Away
Though chickens rarely run away if they have safety and plenty of food, some things will cause chickens to run away. Most likely, it will have to do with something frightening them off.
Your Chickens Got Chased by a Predator
When raising chickens, you will inevitably lose the occasional one to predators. Foxes, raccoons, owls, hawks, rats, snakes, you name it; they want to eat your chickens. If any of the many predators chase away your chickens, they may not return to the coop right away.
They could have run off to a different hiding spot and stayed hidden there for a day or two. As long as they get away, they will eventually return to their home. They will follow the sounds of your other chickens or follow their own way home, but they will want to get back to the pack.
Accidentally Get Lost
Though this rarely happens, it still can. Most likely something chased it far away and doesn’t know exactly how to get back home. Again, they will return if they hear the other chickens or if you have trained them to come home with a whistle or your voice.
Got Stuck Somewhere
Chickens are curious. Sometimes this will get them in trouble as they go off exploring. They might have entered a small space and they don’t know how to get back out. You may have to rescue your stuck chicken if it cannot return on its own.
Loud noises such as motorcycles, thunder, or fireworks can frighten chickens. Though they often stay together, when they get frightened, they can scatter in all different directions. Some of your chickens may have run off in search of a hiding place. Give them some time and they should return.
You can read our full guide to why chickens are easily scared here!
New to the Area
New chickens might not have associated your coop with home. It’s important to get new chickens acclimated to the new coop before letting them run free. They could run off accidentally while looking for the home they came from.
Maybe they have gotten lost because they’re not used to the new coop and can’t remember how to get back. Give new chickens plenty of time to get used to resting in your coop before letting them range free.
Also, make sure not to use any of the scents that chickens hate near their coop to avoid them from wanting to wander too far!
That’s A Wrap!
There you have it. Reasons chickens won’t fly—they are not good flyers—and why they won’t run away. Chickens are just looking for another group of chickens to hang around with, a safe roost to rest at night, and plenty to eat.
As long as you get your chickens used to their coop, train them to come to you using treats or snacks and prevent (as much as possible) predators from getting them, your chickens won’t have a reason to run away.
Pollock, S.L., Stephen, C., Skuridina, N. et al. Raising Chickens in City Backyards: The Public Health Role. J Community Health 37, 734–742 (2012).
Brandon, Jennifer, Nathan Collins, and Benjamin Reiter. “Chickens in the City: Yes, in My Backyard.” Journal of Agricultural & Food Information 12.1 (2011): 118-127.
Frame, D. D. (2008). Housing Backyard Chickens.