Can chickens swim? When it comes to behavior and lifestyle, chickens frequently get lumped in with ducks, geese, swans and other aquatic avians. But here, one of these isn’t like all the others….at least not when it comes to water. Chickens can technically float for a short period, but they aren’t waterproof and they don’t do it well. They are heavy, ungraceful and their wings are small in proportion to their size. Chickens that try to swim for more than quarter of an hour risk drowning as their feathers become waterlogged, and Roosters find swimming even harder than hens. Yet some surprising video of chickens swimming has emerged. Today we’ll look at whether chickens can swim naturally, whether you can teach a hen to swim and what to do if your fowl finds herself in deep water.
- Can chickens swim?
- Do roosters swim?
- Can chickens swim as babies?
- Chicken water safety
- Can chickens swim in the bath?
- Are chicken feathers waterproof?
- Can chickens swim by floating?
Whether you are planning to take up chicken-keeping, already have chickens at home or are just curious about how well chickens swim, we have all the answers for you right here.
Can Chickens Swim?
Despite any ideas the YouTube video above might drop into your head, most chickens do not swim well if at all. Why is this? There are several reasons.
Unlike ducks and other aquatic fowl species, chickens do not have webbed feet or truly water-resistant feathers. This makes the chicken version of swimming a difficult and even potentially dangerous activity.
You probably also noticed that the chicken in the video wasn’t really swimming but rather floating along with an occasional leg kick. You can see the same behavior in this viral video of Instagram star Sammi the sea-faring chicken.
Can Adult Chickens Swim?
There are two activities commonly associated with birds that chickens don’t do very well. One of those is flying and the other one is swimming.
The reason chickens are not great swimmers or flyers has to do with the size of their wings relative to the size of their bodies. In short, chicken wings are not large or strong enough to hoist those heavy bodies up into the air easily!
Even the domestic chicken’s closest wild relative, the red jungle fowl, can only fly for short distances before landing becomes imperative. And the domestic chicken, gallus domesticus, is larger and heavier than a wild chicken. This size difference can be traced to human selective breeding programs that focus on breeding bigger-bodied chickens that can produce a larger percentage of preferred white meat.
All of this adds up to a bigger, heavier and even less aquatically inclined bird. So while there can be some exceptions, adult chickens in general should not be allowed to swim or float unsupervised.
Can Roosters Swim?
A male adult chicken is called a rooster. Roosters are generally even larger and heavier than female chickens. Roosters also have thicker, sturdier legs and longer, heavier decorative feathers.
Unfortunately, this adds up to bad news for a swimming rooster. Because of their size, roosters are typically even less buoyant and adept in water than chickens.
Can Chickens Swim When They are Chicks?
Baby chickens, called chicks, are born with bodies covered in very soft, fine feathers called plumules, or down. Down doesn’t function like normal bird feathers because it doesn’t have the hook-and-barbule design that knits feathers together for flight and waterproofing.
Down serves only one purpose: insulation. Even adult chickens still have down underneath their adult feathers because this insulating layer is important for protection and temperature regulation.
But it also means that baby chicks can’t fly at all and they can’t float at all. They also can’t swim at all. Waterlogged down gets heavy quickly. This means a baby chick left unsupervised in even the shallowest water dish is in extreme danger of drowning.
Chicken Water Safety
The safest chicken is a dry chicken standing on dry land. But chickens, like all birds, need to drink water. So what can you do to ensure chicken water safety for baby chicks and adult chickens and roosters alike?
Baby chicks are in real danger of drowning in even a very shallow open dish of water. Adult chickens and roosters can drink from an open shallow trough or dish with relative safety. But as a precaution, always make sure any water dish or water feature on your property offers an easy way in and out for your chickens by placing a few rocks, bricks or steps somewhere near the water’s edge.
Can Chickens Swim in the Bath?
At this point you might be wondering what happens when your chickens need a bath. The way chickens bathe is very different than the way people and many other pets bathe. Chickens actually take dust baths to get clean!
Rolling in dirt and dust helps chickens get rid of everything from parasites and pests to excess oil and moisture.
Are Chicken Feathers Waterproof?
Speaking of oil, rumor has it that bird feathers are waterproof. The truth is a lot closer to water-resistant….and only some types of bird feathers fit into that category. Adult chickens have two basic types of feathers. They have the inner layer of insulating down – the same feathers that baby chickens have. And they have their outer body feathers that protect their skin from various dangers including damp and parasites.
Chickens, like many other bird species, have a special oil gland called the uropygial gland that secretes oil to help condition the feathers. The oil also helps keep water from accumulating on the chicken’s body.
But even with this protective oil coating on their feathers, chickens, like all birds, can still become waterlogged if exposed to excess water.
Can Chickens Swim by Floating?
Adult chickens are generally buoyant enough to float on the water for short periods of time. But most chickens will not seek out this experience on their own. And chickens that remain in water for periods longer than 10 to 15 minutes run an increasing risk of becoming waterlogged and possibly sinking and drowning.
Do Chickens Ever Swim Well?
Backyard chicken-keeping is becoming more and more popular today. There are many reasons to love keeping chickens, such as fresh eggs and meat, not to mention lively company. However, it is important to know going in that water is not a chicken’s natural habitat.
Will a chicken who falls into the water try to swim? Absolutely! Do some chickens seem to enjoy floating around or even kicking a little in the water with appropriate human supervision? Definitely. Do chickens want or need to swim? They sure don’t. So if your chickens never seek out a water adventure, now you know this is completely normal and natural for them.
Have you ever seen a chicken swimming or kept chickens that liked to swim? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments.
- Barragan et al. “Gallus Gallus Domesticus.” Charles Darwin Foundation, 2022.
- Eda, M. “Origin of the domestic chicken from modern biological and zooarchaeological approaches.” Oxford Academic Animal Frontiers, 2021.
- Geggel, L. “Forget About the Road. Why Are Chickens So Bad at Flying?” Live Science, 2016.
- Tokita et al. “Developmental mechanisms underlying webbed foot morphological diversity in waterbirds.” Nature, 2020.
- Srinivasan et al. “Quantification of feather structure, wettability and resistance to liquid penetration.” The Royal Society Publishing, 2014.
- Curtis, R. “Clearing Up Misconceptions About Feather Waterproofing.” International Bird Rescue, 2021.