Recently, eating healthy, organic, and humane is becoming more and more popular. So, naturally, adopting chickens for cheap, hormone-free, and ethical eggs is on the rise.
And there are even those who simply enjoy chickens for their companionship! Chickens make interesting and somewhat entertaining feathered friends. For many, growing organic, homegrown vegetables and raising chickens is the next step toward environmentally friendly and ethical living.
But sometimes even the simplest of animals that have been around humans for eons baffle us. That’s why many people find themselves wondering:
Why do chickens have wings? While it is true that chickens are technically flightless birds, they use their wings to jump high over obstacles, balance, shelter their young, and scare off predators. Due to selective breeding and steroid or hormone injections for thicker flight muscles, they lost their ability to fly.
Yet, raising chickens is no small feat when it comes to the suburbs or the city. These birds require your attention and care like any other animal. So if you’ve got more questions and a little time to kill, continue to read on to find the answers to your queries.
Do Chickens Fly?
Technically, chickens can fly, but it’s more like a frantic jump. They can’t fly over long distances or for a longer duration of time.
Many chicken owners will vouch that they often find their chicken foraging in their neighbor’s garden despite the high fences. In truth, chickens aren’t skilled speakers that can convince the neighbor’s dog or cat to help them cross over into the next yard.
They are capable of soaring into flight over very small distances and reasonable heights. Also, the jungle fowl is far more capable of tackling height and distance than domestic chicken. Some species can “fly” better than others.
But, chickens have wings for safety, mating, balancing, and caring for their baby chicks. Hens often use their wings to hide their chicks from predators or keep their young warm in cold weather. They sometimes flap their wings in an effort to ward off predators as well.
Why Can’t Chickens Fly?
Most domestic chickens raised as food for humans or their eggs aren’t given the care and consideration they need. You see, the regular farm chicken is raised not as a show animal or a valued family member. The farm chicken is pumped with steroids and hormones to help them gain weight.
The point behind the steroids is to give the chicken larger flight muscles. People enjoy eating white chicken meat, and the larger the flight muscle, the whiter the meat you will get from your chicken. But, that also means that the chicken will not be able to carry its weight as well while in flight.
Another aspect of chickens being unable to fly is not just the chemicals put into their system. According to Micheal Habib, an assistant professor of clinical cell and neurobiology at the University of Southern California, chickens have lost much of their ability to fly, as they have been bred to become earthbound.
Chickens have never been known to soar through the skies with the eagles. But, it is said that the chickens of yesteryear were much more capable at flight than the current fowl.
Habib says that through selective breeding, chickens have been bred to have larger flight muscles that are counterproductive when flying. You see, birds need appropriate wing loading – a ratio of body mass to wing area.
Now, if the wing area is smaller than the body, flight becomes improbable. And, the worst part is that there are many studies coming out recently that reveal that eating a lot of chicken with antibiotics and hormones can cause many health problems.
If you’re not a vegan or vegetarian, this is why it’s always better to source your meat and dairy from a humane and hormone-free farm.
Why Do Chickens Have Feathers?
It may be true that domestic chickens aren’t blessed in the flight department. But, chickens are birds at the end of the day, and feathers help birds not just for flight but for other purposes as well.
You see, feathers provide insulation for chickens in winter. Feathers also protect the soft flesh of the chicken from harm and keep the skin safe from the sun.
Four main types of feathers cover a chicken’s body: down feather, contour feather, semiplumes, and filoplumes.
Down feathers are often found on young chicks and under the tough exterior feathers of older chickens. The loose structure of these feathers traps air and retains heat loss. Down feathers cover the abdomen of the chicken, and it functions perfectly when hens are roosting.
Contour feathers cover the wings, tail, and body. They make up the color and shape of the bird and help to identify the breed of the bird. These are the outermost feathers on a chicken.
Semiplumes are found in between contour feathers. The filoplumes are hair-like and stiff in appearance with nerve-endings that react to keep the contour feathers in line.
Do Chickens Have Arms?
Well, chickens have wings. And although these smaller wings don’t do a great job when it comes to flying, chickens use their wings for many purposes, as mentioned earlier. In short, they function more like arms than wings.
But, if you were to take a look at chicken anatomy, it will become evident that chickens have no arms. The neck and the backbone of a chicken are super flexible. The spine has 39 bones, and the neck is quite long. It works as a shock absorber to the skull and allows the chicken much range when searching for food.
Now that we’ve answered your most burning questions about chicken flight, here are some other commonly asked questions for your consideration.
Can Chickens Fly Away?
Depending on the breed, chickens can take flight over very short distances. There have been incidents where chickens have reached heights over 10 feet and crossed over 40-50 feet.
But, in most cases, chickens don’t fly away. You see, chickens only fly to get to a spot that’s great for foraging. And, if they find that one area looks particularly rich in insects or grain, they will make every attempt to get to it.
Yet, many owners claim that when their birds did manage to fly across to the next property, they just stuck around until their owners found them. In some cases, the chicken even returned on their own accord.
Do Chickens Recognize Their Owners?
Now, there isn’t much evidence to support the fact that chickens can recognize their owners by sight or through sound as well. Yet, if you own a chicken, there is no denying that they are very well able to distinguish their owner from a crowd of strangers.
Animal experts argue that the chicken’s sense of sight is the most powerful, followed by hearing. Some avian experts even go so far as to say that chickens can probably recognize up to 100 different faces.
Can Eggs Get Stuck In Chickens?
Yes, it is very much possible for eggs to get stuck inside a chicken. The phenomenon where an egg gets stuck in a chicken is known as “egg binding.”
The chicken that suffers from egg binding needs medical assistance immediately. In most cases where a chicken does not get help from a trained professional such as an avian vet, the bird can die.
Also, egg binding doesn’t happen out of the blue. In most cases, a chicken becomes egg-bound when it suffers from a failure in the reproductive system, poor diet, or an odd-shaped egg. In some cases, vets have been able to identify an underlying infection as the reason for egg binding.
So, the best way to deal with a situation where you may suspect that your chicken may have egg binding is to contact the local vet. A series of tests and some medication will help your bird feel better and possibly live longer.
Do Chickens Eat Their Own Eggs?
It is rare to find a chicken that will eat its own eggs. But, it isn’t something that has never occurred. Chickens only eat their eggs when they suffer from an extreme calcium deficiency. You see, chickens need calcium to lay eggs. And if they lack calcium, they may try to recover it from the shells of the eggs.
Yet, there have been instances where chickens eat their eggs out of boredom. Hence, it is best to remove the eggs from the chicken coop first thing as chickens tend to lay eggs in the mornings.