Is there a single word to describe birds that can fly? Am I struggling to think of a word because the default notion of a bird is that it can fly? So we generally only need to differentiate the ones that can't fly.

I've seen the term "winged" in a few google searches, but to my mind an ostrich is winged, but it is also flightless.

I guess I'm looking for the word you'd put into this blank:

Penguins are flightless because they cannot fly.

Ostriches are flightless because they cannot fly.

Pigeons are ____ because they can fly.

  • 2
    The word "flighted" is commonly used; unfortunately I can't find an acceptable source to include this as an answer...
    – user323578
    Apr 15, 2019 at 11:06
  • This seems a reputable example where "flying birds" is used: books.google.com/… But "Pigeons are flying" (without 'birds') is less clear / more confusing. But it's not clear why you want to use the "Pigeons are [single word]" construction.
    – LarsH
    Apr 15, 2019 at 13:35
  • Pigeons are birds. Birds can fly. Emus are flightless birds because they can't fly.
    – Jim
    Apr 15, 2019 at 20:47
  • Flying is a good answer but I just wanted to point out that the reason it's difficult to find the perfect sounding word is because you generally don't say that a bird is enflightanated or anything like that, birds default to air-worthy and would need to be modified by "Flightless" if not.
    – Bill K
    Apr 16, 2019 at 21:11

9 Answers 9


I think you can just use flying to describe them; flying birds sounds perfectly normal and isn't a tautology, nor does it only apply to birds in the air, cf. the title of the Wikipedia article 'Flying and gliding animals'.

It's obviously an awkward choice for your example sentence, where another option, volant, could be used instead:

2: flying or capable of flying

(source: Merriam-Webster)

  • 3
    If you think of insects capable of flying, you call them flying insects, so flying seems to is a good choice
    – yunzen
    Apr 15, 2019 at 11:27
  • 6
    It depends on the context what it means exactly.
    – Glorfindel
    Apr 15, 2019 at 12:55
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    @youcantryreachingme would you have the same objection if somebody described moles as burrowing creatures, or lions as meat-eating mammals? At this moment most moles aren't actively burrowing, and most lions aren't currently engaged in the process of eating meat. Or described the vikings as a sea-faring culture? Most of them spent most of their time on land.
    – Chris H
    Apr 15, 2019 at 12:55
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    @youcantryreachingme The phrase 'flying birds' can mean "birds that are presently in flight," and that might be the more common usage, but "birds that are capable of flight" is certainly a valid usage of the phrase. It might be necessary to establish context to make sure the meaning is understood correctly, as in "The bones of nonflying birds are heavier and less hollow than those of flying birds" (books.google.com/…)
    – LarsH
    Apr 15, 2019 at 13:34
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    Flying squirrels and flying foxes are other instances of the word being used to describe animals that can fly (or at least glide) even when they are not currently flying. You even see that word used to describe things that never actually fly, such as buttresses or trapezes... Apr 15, 2019 at 19:18


This is the straightforward opposite of flightless.

Edit - reference below:

@WendyG Chambers's English Dictionary, Enlarged Edition with supplement containing 39 pages of additional words and phrases, W&R Chambers Limited, Edinburgh 1914:

"Flight, n. a passing through the air: a soaring: excursion : a sally : a series of steps : a flock of birds flying together : the birds produced in the same season : a volley or shower : act of fleeing : hasty removal.
- adjs. Flight'ed (Milton), flying ; Flight'y, fanciful : changeable : giddy.

- adv. Flight'ily.
-n. Flight'iness. [A.S. flyht - fléogan.] (p 350).

  • 1
    yep flightless/ flighted. But interestingly I can't find this in "proper" dictionaries.
    – WendyG
    Apr 15, 2019 at 12:35
  • @WendyG reference added to answer. Apr 15, 2019 at 12:42
  • 1
    I'm not saying that this answer is wrong, but which part of the reference supports the claim that 'flighted' (incidentally, my spelling checker complains about it!) is the opposite of flightless?
    – Glorfindel
    Apr 15, 2019 at 18:46
  • 4
    If you read pretty much any article on flightless birds you will find several uses of "flighted" to describe the "other" birds.
    – user323578
    Apr 15, 2019 at 20:57
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    I'm not sure how acceptable this is as evidence, but it may be worth considering and comparing to the pair sightless_/_sighted Apr 16, 2019 at 7:14




(of birds) Capable of flight.

  • 3
    I can't help feeling that it ought to be "flit".
    – RedSonja
    Apr 15, 2019 at 13:41
  • 1
    @RedSonja Ah, but "flit" means to fly in a particular way and I can't help feeling that its past tense ought to be "flat". Apr 16, 2019 at 12:46
  • @DavidRicherby To me "flit" means to run away silently, especially if you didn't pay your rent. "A moonlight flit". There is a past tense, "They've flitted."
    – RedSonja
    Apr 16, 2019 at 13:03

"Volant" would be another choice here, but it's likely to send the reader to a dictionary.


You could say, "Pigeons are flighted" as other users mentioned, or "Pigeons possess the ability of flight". It is not one word, but I guess it's very clear.

  • Penguins CAN'T fly though. Did you mean pigeons (as that was the blank example in the OP)? Apr 15, 2019 at 18:46
  • Penguins can fly very well, (i.e. they use their wings to propel themselves) but they only do it under water.
    – alephzero
    Apr 15, 2019 at 20:47
  • 3
    @alephzero That's not swimming?
    – jimm101
    Apr 15, 2019 at 20:52
  • @alephzero while there is one definition that would fit that, contextually we are obviously using this definition: move through the air using wings. But my comment was more curious about why he singled out penguins over the blank sentence which used pigeons. I think it was a mistake, but maybe not. Apr 15, 2019 at 20:59
  • Yeah that was a mistake but they do propel themselves through water which is a fluid so is it flight??
    – Tarun
    Apr 16, 2019 at 14:42

I would call them just Birds without any adjective like 'flying' because of their definition which includes 'wings', and birds' wings are always used for flying:


: one of the movable feathered or membranous paired appendages by means of which a bird, bat, or insect is able to fly.

(According to MWD)

  • 6
    "Birds wings are always used for flying"? Not true. Most, maybe all, flightless birds have wings.
    – user323578
    Apr 15, 2019 at 11:01
  • 5
    "Pigeons are birds because they can fly." Not really a good fit.
    – Richard
    Apr 15, 2019 at 12:09
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    @user307254 Better. They are certainly not always used for flying. But it is still no use as an answer to the question: "What is the opposite of flightless birds?" / "Birds with wings" / "Like penguins?" / "No. Other birds with wings." / "Emu?"
    – user323578
    Apr 15, 2019 at 12:21
  • 1
    @user307254 just because it is the first and natural function of some birds (where it is NOT for others) doesn't mean that they are ONLY for flying. The first and natural function of wings for a penguin, ostrich, kiwi, cassowary, etc is NOT to fly Apr 15, 2019 at 18:48

Simply, "Flying" is a very strong word that says what you want. It's not obvious, because your quest for a plug-in unit replacement for flightless it has thrown you off-course. "Flying" is so strong it requires adapting the sentence.

Pigeons are flying [birds]

fullstop. You might fill in the implied noun. The "plug-in" idea doesn't work: you wouldn't say

Pigeons are flying because they can fly

since there's an obvious redundancy, which you would eliminate or restyle.


In German we have it easy: 'flugfähig' and 'flugunfähig'. Deepl gave me this translation

So it might be airworthy you are searching for, though it may only be used for contraptions and not for animals

  • 8
    "may only be used for contraptions and not for animals." Yeah, airworthy birds would at best be seen as a humorous expression.
    – LarsH
    Apr 15, 2019 at 13:22
  • 1
    – Tom Hundt
    Apr 15, 2019 at 19:19
  • Flightworthy... (I see it without any dash in my circles)
    – Joshua
    Apr 16, 2019 at 1:31
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    Airworthy mean not merely that it can fly, but that it should. For instance the Boeing 737 Max can fly, but it's not airworthy. Apr 16, 2019 at 15:03

The dodo was a kind of pigeon but lacking the need to escape predators was flightless. Pigeons in countries where predation is a danger are flying birds. So my suggestion is "flying". That is the best I can do. We can talk about the walking wounded or about talking stones and have those adjectives understood. To talk about a flying bird sounds strange but words become acceptable through use.

  • 1
    "flying" has already been suggested and is a highly up-voted answer. This answer adds nothing new.
    – CJ Dennis
    Apr 16, 2019 at 23:52

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