What Are Early Flying Pokémon?
Ever since the early days of Red and Blue, Flying Pokémon have played a crucial role in our regional adventures. Like all types, having one around helps increase your ability to counter other elements, but Flying Pokémon also make great use of the HM (Hidden Machine) Fly, which is essentially Pokémon's fast-travel. Fly simply offers one of the most convenient ways of navigating between towns and other locations, meaning you'll almost certainly want at least one Flying-type in your team at all times.
Luckily, the video games usually present many early options for Flying creatures, most of which also bear the Normal-type and gradually evolve as they gain experience.
Discounting starters (no Charizard or Rowlet), these are the 10 best early-access aerial aces throughout Pokémon!
Potential Abilities: Keen Eye, Sniper
I hate to rank one of the originals so low, but the fact is, Fearow simply doesn't stand the test of time. After evolving from Spearow at level 20, its mediocre base stat total of 442 just doesn't match its competitors, especially since many older Pokémon received a slight boost after generation 6.
Fearow also doesn't learn a great spread of moves as it levels up, only delving into a few underwhelming Dark attacks before finally aquiring the decent Ground move Drill Run at level 45, but it's too little too late.
That said, Fearow's stat distribution of Attack and Speed is nice (but typical), and its hidden Sniper ability impresses much more than Keen Eye by raising your critical hit ratio. Still, most Kanto trainers will simply pick Pidgeot due to its earlier availability, greater stat total, and now a potential Mega Evolution, making Fearow an outdated Flying recipe for disaster. How about a third evolution, Nintendo?
Potential Abilities: Guts, Scrappy
Like Fearow, Swellow is a Normal/Flying blends that evolves once (from Taillow), this time at level 22 in the Hoenn region featured in Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald. Swellow originally heavily favored Attack, but has since received a boost to Special Attack, landing at a 455 base stat total. It's best at Speed and its defenses are weak, but Swellow can now hold its own with both direct and indirect techniques.
That said, 455 still ranks low, and coupled with an atrocious movepool while leveling, Swellow can't compare to its avian superiors. Still, it offers some of the best abilities we'll see today; Guts increases Attack by 50% whenever Swellow has a status condition (and prevents Attack loss due to burn), and Scrappy lets Swellow hit Ghost-types with Normal and Fighting moves, preventing the need to learn and use Foresight.
Finally, while Normal/Flying is the standard type duo, it's a decent combo since it compensates for three weaknesses (Rock, Ice, and Electric) with two resistances (Bug and Grass) and two immunities (Ghost and Ground).
Potential Abilities: Compoundeyes, Tinted Lens
A bit of a cheat since Butterfree doesn't obtain Flying until its final stage, but Butterfree fully evolves from Metapod (and previously Caterpie) at level 10, mitigating the issue. Butterfree's biggest weaknesses are a bad typing (five weaknesses, including a double weakness to Rock) and low base stat total of 395.
Thus, you likely won't encounter Butterfree competitively, but 385 actually impresses in the early levels, and this butterfly helps Charmander trainers combat the first few Kanto gyms (who are strong against Fire).
Even better, Butterfree offers an incredible movepool that includes Bug, Flying, and even Psychic attacks as well as status moves like Poison Powder, Stun Spore and Sleep Powder. These debuffs are improved by Butterfree's incredible Compound Eyes ability, which raises the accuracy of your moves by 30%, a fierce increase that lets you play normally-risky attacks without fear of missing. Tinted Lens is also a good alternative that doubles the power of your attacks that would be "not very effective", landing normal damage even against resistant enemies.
Potential Abilities: Keen Eye, Insomnia, Tinted Lens
Hoothoot's silly name and chubby form render it pretty cute, but at level 20, it turns into the fierce bird of prey Noctowl. Ash used one in the Johto Journeys anime, and in the games Noctowl introduced us to the concept of Foresight, making Ghost-types vulnerable to Normal and Fighting moves. Noctowl's also got an interesting array of abilities to choose from, including sleep-preventing Insomnia and ineffective-improving Tinted Lens. Its 442 stats bear an uncommon spread; it's surprisingly slow, but has better HP, Special Attack, and Special Defense than most flyers.
Noctowl learns a solid number of Psychic moves and sleep-inducers while leveling. Still, if you wanted Psychic attacks from an early bird, you're probably better off with Natu/Xatu, another generation 2 pair that's found before venturing far and receives the coveted STAB (same type attack bonus) for Psychic.
Potential Abilities: Keen Eye, Tangled Feet, Big Pecks, No Guard*
(*Mega Pidgeot only)
Pidgey was one of the first Pokémon original fans ever caught, harassing our early teams with accuracy-reducing Sand Attack. After a Pidgeotto stage, it evolves into the classic Pidgeot, one of the most well-rounded winged monsters yet. Pidgeot employs its decent 479 base stat total fairly evenly, slightly favoring speed, so it won't excel in any one area but can battle competently in all.
Pidgeot has access to three abilities, the best often being Tangled Feet, which reduces the accuracy of moves used against it while confused by 50%, dodging attacks as you recover your ailment.
While I wish Pidgeot's lackluster moveset included more techniques of types beyond the expected Normal and Flying (Dragon-type Twister is too weak to help), Pidgeot is today's only unit (as of this writing) who can mega evolve. Mega Pidgeot receives a moderate boost to Speed and a fantastic increase in Special Attack, simultaneously acquiring the helpful No Guard ability, preventing both attacks it uses and those used against it from missing (letting you harness high-power low-accuracy strikes like Hurricane).
Potential Abilities: Flame Body, Gale Wings
Talonflame is obtained early (this time in X and Y's Kalos region), but breaks our trend with its Fire/Flying combination. While this typing unfortunately bears a quadruple weakness to Rock and the ever-popular Stealth Rock entrance hazard, it's otherwise a great typing with five resistances (including two double resistances, Grass and Bug) and an immunity to Ground from Flying that usefully covers Fire's general weakness to it.
Note that first form Fletchling actually does begin as Normal/Flying, but Fletchinder and Talonflame both replace Normal with Fire. While Talonflame's family doesn't learn many worthwhile Fire attacks, you can teach them new techniques with TMs or tutoring, and an impressive base stat total of 499 (skewed towards Speed and Attack) adds extra power.
Additionally, both possible abilities impress: Flame Body has a 30% chance to burn physical attackers while Gale Wings increases the priority (speed) of Flying moves, although starting with generation 7, this only works when Talonflame has full health. Overall, a useful choice early on that appreciatively deviates from the norm and provides Fire early on even to non-Fennekin trainers.
Potential Abilities: Big Pecks, Super Luck, Rivalry
Generation 5's Unfezant, hailing from the Unova region seen in Black and White, follows the standard Normal/Flying pattern, but a few highlights help it stand out. In addition to a cosmetic change based on gender, Unfezant's impressive 488 stat total actually skews more towards Attack than Speed, letting it hit fast and hit hard.
It also packs a heap of interesting abilities. Big Pecks prevents opponents from lowering your Defense and Rivalry can increase/decrease your power based on the genders of your opponent's team, but you'll probably want Super Luck, which simply improves your critical hit ratio by one stage. As of generation 7, this means (assuming no other factors are in play), your base odds of landing a critical increase from 1/24 to 1/8, a significant buff that triples your odds of extra damage. Unfezant's one glaring weakness is a lackluster moveset that you'll definitely want to improve with TMs and other tricks.
Potential Abilities: Inner Focus, Infiltrator
Another slight fudge, Zubats aren't obtained quite as early as today's other flyers, but they're still early-game fodder found in several generations of caves. After a Golbat stage, Zubats transform into Crobat when you raise its friendship stat high enough. Like its prior evolutions, Crobat enjoys the useful Poison/Flying elemental pairing, another duo that lets Flying's immunity to Ground cover Poison's weakness to it. You've got four weaknesses but five resistances (three of which are double resistances) and one immunity, making Crobat surprisingly capable on defense.
However, its sweet 535 base stat total heavily leans towards Speed, with the other stats being well-rounded. Crobat performs slightly better with physical attacks, and thankfully, it learns an impressive set of Flying, Poison, Dark, and Bug moves alongside many technical attacks like Haze, Confuse Ray, and Mean Look. Crobat's definitely one of today's best entries, but ranks lower for having two weaker abilities (especially Inner Focus, whose flinch-guard rarely matters to an agile creature like Crobat) and since we're fudging a bit to include him.
Potential Abilities: Keen Eye, Skill Link, Sheer Force
The final form of Pikipek and Trumbeak, Toucannon's impressive 485 base stat total also switches things up. Rather than favoring speed like most Flying Pokémon, Toucannon actually moves rather slowly, but heavily emphasizes Attack and balances its other stats.
Toucannon also learns a healthy number of impressive moves while leveling, including signature attack Beak Blast, which makes you strike last but burns any who make contact with Toucannon in the meantime, then scores 100 damage. You've also got Rock-type Rock Blast, Fighting-type Rock Smash, and Grass-type Bullet Seed to lend type coverage.
Both Rock Blast and Bullet Seed are multi-hit techniques that normally hit randomly 2–5 times; however, if your Toucannon wields the Skill Link ability, you'll always hit five times for some fierce damage. If you prefer other attacks, you'll likely want hidden ability Sheer Force, which boosts the power of moves with extra effects by 30% but negates the chances of those extra effects activating. Still, these add-ons usually only trigger occasionally, while extra damage is continuously useful, making Sheer Force a worthy way to round out Toucannon's already-impressive offense.
Potential Abilities: Intimidate, Reckless
Back when Diamond and Pearl released, I caught a Starly for the heck of it, figuring I'd replace it later. Little did I know that (after a Staravia stage), Staraptor would soon become a staple of my generation 4 Sinnoh team. Its 485 stats are distributed perfectly—great Attack, good Speed, okay defenses and lackluster Special Attack (not an issue as long as you strike directly). Staraptor follows the usual Normal/Flying pattern, but again, it's actually a pretty decent combo with more defenses than vulnerabilities.
Even better, Staraptor employs the terrific Intimidate ability, automatically lowering the Attack of all foes by one stage whenever Staraptor enters the arena (or is switched in), a great way to dampen your adversary's offense. Plus, Staraptor learns useful tricks like the HP-equalizing Endeavor and the last resort self-sacrifice Final Gambit. However, its best trait is acquiring Close Combat right as it evolves, a spectacularly strong (and accurate) Fighting move.
While Close Combat lowers Staraptor's defense and special defense, its Fighting element deals double damage to types that Normal and Flying would be weak against, like Rock and Steel, and it also hits Ice and Dark hard. Here's a neat combo: field Staraptor, trigger Intimidate, wreak havoc with Close Combat, then switch in and out to reset your stats while reactivating Intimidate.
Future of Flying Pokémon
To showcase their prominence, remember that anime protagonist Ash Ketchum included each of today's entries on his team at some point except for Fearow, Toucannon, and Crobat (although Brock had one), and Flying Pokémon have long remained the most popular secondary element of Pokémon. Many powerful legendaries bear the Flying type, and it serves as a great defense against common Ground strikes like Earthquake.
Whether you're playing competitively or just adventuring through a game's world, having a trusty avian by your side benefits your adventure in numerous ways. But for now, as we eagerly await Nintendo's next batch of early-stage birds, vote for your favorite Flying-type and I'll see you at our next Pokémon countdown!
© 2018 Jeremy Gill