Somewhat surprisingly, there seems to be an awful lot of controversy raging on the internet concerning whether chickens can, or cannot, swim.
I’ve seen arguments claiming that chickens float basically just like ducks. I’ve seen others claiming that chickens sink like a stone. And I’ve seen every kind of argument in between!
Based on my experience, the whole thing seems kind of ridiculous, but we are here to get to the bottom of it. So, let us answer the question and hopefully for the last time: can chickens actually swim?
Yes, chickens can swim for a short period of time but they aren’t great swimmers like ducks. They can easily drown when things go wrong.
Chickens can usually swim well enough to get themselves out of calm bodies of deep water, but they water log fairly quickly and have to spend a lot of energy to move through the water.
I’ve seen chickens in the water many times, whether they wanted to be there or not, and I can tell you that most chickens are only passable swimmers under ideal conditions. Chickens aren’t ducks, and they aren’t geese or swans.
They don’t belong out on the water, but if the current isn’t working against them, they can usually swim well enough to get themselves back to dry land.
There’s a lot more to know about this, as you might imagine, and I’ll tell you about it below…
How Does a Chicken Actually Swim?
As you’d probably imagine, chickens are not graceful swimmers like ducks, geese and swans are.
They don’t sit perfectly still up on the surface of the water and paddle their feet below the surface to get to where they are going.
Instead, a chicken usually is forced to resort to graceless, frantic flapping in a sort of hopping movement to carry them across the surface, and they will do everything within their power to keep their head dry.
It looks exhausting and panicked, and that’s because it is…
Why Would a Chicken Even Go in the Water?
Chickens, as a general rule of thumb, will try to avoid deep water at all costs, but there are reasons why they might enter a shallow body of water or even be forced into a deeper one.
Sometimes it is to get a good deep cleaning if they cannot get from their typical dust bath. another reason is that they are trying to cool off if they are particularly hot.
Although most chickens do just fine when temperatures rise as long as they have a little shade, most animals will instinctively seek water when they are overheating.
When it comes to deeper bodies of water, the only reason a chicken might willingly, if inadvertently, enter the water is if they are trying to escape from a predator or some other attacker, or if they take panicked flight and happen to come down on the surface of the water.
Put under such duress, a chicken might risk drowning rather than certain death in the jaws of a coyote or the talons of a bird of prey.
Are Chickens at Risk of Drowning in Water?
Absolutely, yes. Chickens have to breathe air, and they don’t have gills. They also cannot hold their breath that long.
Once a chicken gets exhausted or waterlogged and deep water, and they can no longer keep their head above the surface, they will drown.
Will Chickens Float on the Water?
Believe it or not, yes, chickens and can float to a degree in much the same way that ducks can.
Chickens, like most species of birds, have feathers that offer a certain amount of natural waterproofing, and combined with the lightweight and natural buoyancy that they have if the water is calm, and more importantly if the chicken stays calm, they can float for a while.
The problem is that most chickens pack when they get in the water, and as the water overcomes their feathers and starts to soak them, they will lose this flotation capability.
You must never, ever count on a chicken’s ability to float to save them if they are around a deep body of water.
Won’t Chickens Get Wet in the Water?
Yes, certainly. Do not mistake the natural water repellency of a chicken’s feathers to mean that they will not get wet because they go in the water.
They will get wet, and even if a chicken gets tossed in the drink for a little bit and then it makes their way out easily enough, they might still have to contend with hypothermia in cooler weather, so keep that in mind.
Again, they are not adapted to life on or near the water like ducks, geese and swans!
Why are Chickens Bad Swimmers?
Chickens are bad swimmers because they’re simply not adapted to swimming. They don’t have the same degree of resiliency and buoyancy in the water that ducks do.
Ducks also benefit from specialized biology that helps keep their legs from going hypothermic even when they’re spending all day on the water.
Chickens lack the webbed feet that ducks have to give them better propulsion, and they also lack the confidence in the water that ducks have: most chickens will panic in deep water!…
Together, these factors all add up to a pronounced lack of swimming ability.
Is it Safe for Chickens to be Near Bodies of Water?
Generally yes, but like every other animal for the most part you must keep an eye on them.
Chickens are smart enough to stay out of deep bodies of water, but chickens are not so smart that they won’t make mistakes, won’t have an accident, or won’t be driven into the water by circumstances such as a predator, a fight, or other mishap.
In such cases, if a bird cannot stand on the bottom of the body of water, or if it’s unable to climb out of any other container, it will likely drown unless you or someone else can intervene.
Can You Take Your Chicken into a Pool?
You can take your chicken into the pool with you, but I would recommend against it.
Chickens are not good swimmers, and being put in a pool is likely going to be a stressful situation for them.
In any case, you must never, ever leave any chicken unattended in a pool that they cannot safely stand on the bottom of with their chest and head well out of the water. A kiddie pool is one thing; a swimming pool is another.
But, every once in a blue moon you’ll find a chicken that seems to enjoy going for a little dip, especially if you are there to hold them up out of the water.
That’s fine, but keep in mind that things like chlorine are very hard on a chicken’s feathers, and once again you can never leave them unattended.
Should You Do Anything if a Chicken is in Deep Water?
Yes, you should, and do it quickly: if you can reach the chicken or get something to retrieve it out of the water, do so.
Take care when getting a chicken out of the water especially if it has been in distress for a while because it is likely panicked and might lash out at you. Get the chicken back to dry land and then assess it to see if it needs any help.
Assuming the chicken is up and moving around normally, it will probably be fine but if the chicken isn’t breathing or showing other signs of distress, administer avian CPR and contact your veterinarian.
It bears mentioning that at no time should you endanger yourself or anyone else trying to save a chicken from deep water.
Frequently Asked Questions
No. Baby chicks as a rule do not swim well at all. They waterlog very quickly, and are not as buoyant as adult chickens, plus they lack the strength to struggle their way back to shore.
Yes, technically, but chickens with fluffy, downy feathers like silkies really struggle to swim because they get waterlogged so much quicker than other breeds that have tighter, sleeker feathers.
Yes, but most chickens don’t have the presence of mind to do so and the ones that do don’t swim at nearly as well as ducks do because they lack webbed feet.
Tim is a farm boy with vast experience on homesteads, and with survival and prepping. He lives a self-reliant lifestyle along with his aging mother in a quiet and very conservative little town in Ohio. He teaches folks about security, prepping and self-sufficiency not just through his witty writing, but also in person.
Find out more about Tim and the rest of the crew here.