When you think of swimming animals, something graceful probably comes to mind. Perhaps it is a swan gliding gracefully across a still lake or maybe even a dog paddling its way through a swimming pool. Whatever type of vision you get, it is probably not very likely that the image of a chicken swimming flashes through your head.
The debate over whether or not chickens can swim seems to go back quite a while with arguments on both sides of the fence. While some have posed many arguments have as to why chickens cannot swim, the possibility that they can has also been argued fiercely. I will say that in my personal experience, I have never seen it happen. Despite a creek and a pond on the property, I have yet to see a chicken take a dip. That is not to say that it has or does not happen, simply that it doesn't happen here. The closest we have come to chicken swimming was when a bird chose to drink from the horse trough and had some iffy balance, but the near fall in was not deliberate.
Some of the reasons you would not expect a chicken to be able to swim are believable and make perfect sense. For example, chickens do not have the webbed feet of water fowl that are so useful in propelling themselves through water. They also lack waterproof feathers, instead bearing feathers that constrict, becoming heavily laden with water. Interestingly enough there are other birds with these same issues and those birds fare well in water. A bird that lacks webbed feet but is classified as water fowl is the Moorhen. A bird that lacks the oil glands to waterproof its feathers is the Anhinga. It is the chicken, however, that brings these two qualities together, so it is the chicken we worry about when it comes to water.
Anhinga (photo credit Real Eyes Photo Art):
Another common opinion regarding chickens in water seems to be that when placed in water, chickens will simply flap their wings to escape. However, multiple accounts exist of people whose chickens took to swimming in the family pool or going for a leisurely float across the pasture pond. A lot of folks have actually tried placing their chickens in water to find out for themselves how it would go (a tactic we do not advocate trying should something will go wrong) and reported back that it went just fine. Other people reported having negative experiences in which chickens died in or near water, seemingly as a result of drowning.
The only thing it seems we can seemingly conclude is that the jury is still out on chickens swimming. While it apparently can be done for at least a short period of time, chickens have not proven to be, in my experience, a bird that prefers life in or near the water. If your chickens swim voluntarily, feel free to let us know. Likewise, we'd also love to hear if your chickens prefer their water experience to include a nothing deeper than the mechanism from which they drink.