This week’s question was asked by: friend.
QUESTION I’ve seen wild turkeys fly here in Monroe County. Why can’t chickens fly?
ANSWER: Chickens can’t fly because they are too heavy for their wing surface and wing muscles. The lift of a wing is proportional to the surface area and the speed squared. As an animal gets larger, its weight increases. The greater the weight, the more wing area needed for lift. Also, greater speed is needed for lift. Many large birds, such as eagles, get much of their lift from rising air currents.
In order for us humans to fly, our chest muscles would have to extend out to about four feet and our legs would have to be reduced to mere stilts. So, when you see the pictures of angels with wings, be a tad skeptical about whether those angels can actually get off the ground!
A question often arises: Why do chickens have some white meat and some dark meat. The answer is related to inability of chickens to fly. The darkness of the meat is related to the exercise activity of the muscles.
Tame or domestic turkeys and chickens don’t fly very much, but they do a lot of walking. This means that there is a greater supply of blood needed for the leg muscles and not much blood for the breast muscles. The greater blood supply for the legs gives the meat a darker color.
A wild goose or duck that does a lot of flying will be using its chest or breast muscles a lot. The breast meat of a wild duck or goose will be darker than the breast meat of its non-flying domestic cousin, the chicken.
Anyone who has raised chickens knows that chickens can actually fly. But they are not very good fliers. They get off the ground a few feet, and ungracefully flap their wings to a haphazard landing.
In the 1940s and 1950s, the Scheckel farm outside of Seneca in Crawford County hosted 500 laying White Leghorn hens and 300 Cornish Rock roosters. Eggs from chickens and meat from roosters. We had a 4-5 foot high woven wire fence around the entire farmhouse yard. The gardens were inside that enclosed acre. We kids could roam free, play tag and hide-and-go-seek, climb trees, and roll around in the grass without fear of encountering chicken droppings.
Some ambitious chickens would take flight and land in greener pastures. We would capture the intruder, bring out the scissors, and clip the longer flight feathers. Those birds would not fly the coop in the future.
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Larry Scheckel is a retired Tomah High School physics teacher.