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Ground-dwelling species of birds, such as domestic chickens (Gallus gallus domesticus), experience difficulties sustaining flight due to high wing loading. This limited flight ability may be exacerbated by loss of flight feathers that is prevalent among egg-laying chickens. Despite this, chickens housed in aviary style systems need to use flight to access essential resources stacked in vertical tiers. To understand the impact of flight feather loss on chickens’ ability to access elevated resources, we clipped primary and secondary flight feathers for two hen strains (brown-feathered and white-feathered, n = 120), and recorded the time hens spent at elevated resources (feeders, nest-boxes). Results showed that flight feather clipping significantly reduced the percentage of time that hens spent at elevated resources compared to ground resources. When clipping both primary and secondary flight feathers, all hens exhibited greater than or equal to 38% reduction in time spent at elevated resources. When clipping only primary flight feathers, brown-feathered hens saw a greater than 50% reduction in time spent at elevated nest-boxes. Additionally, brown-feathered hens scarcely used the elevated feeder regardless of treatment. Clipping of flight feathers altered the amount of time hens spent at elevated resources, highlighting that distribution and accessibility of resources is an important consideration in commercial housing.


Originally published by the Royal Society Open Science

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