Telltale Signs Your Chicken is a Rooster

Image from Backyard Chickens.
It has come to our attention that one of our new hatchlings from the summer is, in fact, a rooster. While each breed has certain characteristics you can look for (and some generalizations true across the board), sometimes it's a little tricky to tell who's who when you're dealing with offspring of interracial chickens. Our latest brood includes eight birds of mixed descent: barred rock, Americauna, and leghorn.

The babies hatched back in July, and are now just about full-grown. The rooster in the bunch let his colors show one day last week when his tail feathers became more pronounced, he had (yet another) growth spurt causing him to tower over his siblings, and he jumped up on the garden fence and attempted to crow (so far unsuccessfully). Ladies and gentlemen, introducing our rooster Judge Roy Bean:
Got a flock of young chickens you're tending to? Here are some easy cues you can use to determine who among them is on the road to roosterdom.

From My Pet Chicken:

When sexing most juveniles, the best, most fail-safe method is to look at the saddle feathers in front of the tail when the bird is about 3 months old. By that age, cockerels will have long and pointy saddle feathers, while a hen's will be rounded. This will indicate for sure whether you have a cockerel or a pullet in every breed but Silkies and Sebrights. You will also be able to see long, curving sickle feathers in the tail of the rooster as he gets a little older.

Crowing is a fairly good indicator, but isn't fail-safe, either. Plus, generally speaking, you will be able to tell by feathers much earlier since roosters don't usually begin to crow until they are 4 or 5 months old. However, we have had roosters wait until a little later, and begin a little sooner, too. Plus, hens will occasionally crow, so even crowing doesn't tell you for sure. To reiterate, the BEST way to tell for sure is by looking at physical characteristics that cannot be mistaken, so check feather shape when your birds are about 3 months old, as other indications are not reliable.

For sebrights, the cockerels are "hen-feathered," meaning the males have the same shape feathers as females. For sebrights, comb size and wattle size are about the only easy way to tell. (Campines are hen feathered in other countries, but not usually so in the US.)

Sexing juvenile silkies is complicated, because you can't easily see the shape of the feathers, the comb is often hidden under the crest, and wattles are not evident in most bearded silkies. Experts vent sex (with 90% accuracy) when the babies are a day old, but for the rest of us—and even for silkie breeders—juvenile silkies are especially hard to sex. However, there are a few telltale signs that may help you discern what you have:

  • Generally the puffy crests on the hens' heads are rounder, while the roosters may have long streamers coming from theirs.
  • Sometimes males will have slightly shinier feathers.
  • If they are non-bearded Silkies, the wattles will be larger in males. (Bearded Silkies of both sexes are lacking substantial wattles.)
  • In both types of silkies, the males' comb will be larger. (A silkie's comb is called a "walnut" comb for its shape. Instead of being red like most chicken combs, it is usually a color described as "mulberry.")
  • Roosters will generally be bolder in their behavior, and often friendlier to humans when they are young. (Hens generally "catch up" in the friendliness category after they begin laying, while roosters usually get more stand-offish as they get older.)
  • If you have more than one rooster, they may "chest bump" and assert themselves with each other. However, hens will do this, too--just not as often.
  • If you have mixed hens and roosters, the roosters usually begin to grow larger more quickly than the hens, so hens may be slightly smaller after a few weeks 
  • Watch for spurs! When these ankle-area spikes come in varies widely from breed to breed, but most develop between three and eight months.

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.