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Wild birds modulate wing and whole-body kinematics to adjust their flight patterns and trajectories when wing loading increases flight power requirements. Domestic chickens (Gallus gallus domesticus) in backyards and farms exhibit feather loss, naturally high wing loading, and limited flight capabilities. Yet, housing chickens in aviaries requires birds to navigate three-dimensional spaces to access resources. To understand the impact of feather loss on laying hens’ flight capabilities, we symmetrically clipped the primary and secondary feathers before measuring wing and whole-body kinematics during descent from a 1.5 m platform. We expected birds to compensate for increased wing loading by increasing wingbeat frequency, amplitude and angular velocity. Otherwise, we expected to observe an increase in descent velocity and angle and an increase in vertical acceleration. Feather clipping had a significant effect on descent velocity, descent angle and horizontal acceleration. Half-clipped hens had lower descent velocity and angle than full-clipped hens, and unclipped hens had the highest horizontal acceleration. All hens landed with a velocity two to three times greater than in bird species that are adept fliers. Our results suggest that intact laying hens operate at the maximal power output supported by their anatomy and are at the limit of their ability to control flight trajectory.


Originally published in The Royal Society Open Science

Volume 8, Issue 7

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