This flock only contains hens, but you can see the difference in facial features between the breeds.
I try to keep connected with the poultry community and one of the most common questions I see cross my computer screen includes a photo of a backyard chicken with the caption “rooster or hen?” Unless you’re trained in baby chick identification and sexing, or you bought a sex linked variety, you won’t be able to tell until your backyard chickens begin to mature. This can also be a pitfall when hatching chicken eggs because you never know what you’re going to get. Once your backyard chickens develop feathers and other features, you can take an educated guess as to the age old question of rooster or hen?
Male chickens develop differently from their female counterparts. Facial features such as the comb and wattles tend to be larger and more pronounced, but you need to compare apples to apples since different breeds develop differently. If you have a group of 10 birds from the same breed and one or two have obvious differences in facial features, then there’s your preliminary tip off.
Male chickens develop a bone structure that tends to be larger overall versus the female of the same breed. If you have a bird that appears to be taller, displays a markedly thicker leg or has a noticeably broader skull, then that’s another potential indicator. Spurs are predominantly a male trait, however, don’t use that as an absolute identifier since on occasion, hens do develop spurs.
Male chickens naturally begin to behave differently when they begin to produce testosterone. Roosters will display behaviors such as courting, which looks more like herding while dragging a wing. Other male behavior also includes mounting of other birds, insisting on keeping the flock generally contained by chasing lone birds back to the flock, vocalizing loudly when food is found and watching over the group as they eat. Male chickens may also challenge or attack many things, including the barn door, waterer, their reflections, other birds and possibly you. Hens don’t typically challenge people or things persistently, so if there’s one bird that always attacks your shins in the morning, then the odds of it being a male are high. You’ll notice I never said roosters were smarter.
Males and females also display different feather types with few exceptions. Male chickens develop longer hackle and saddle feathers which taper to a relatively sharp point, unlike female feathering which maintain a stout, blunted round shape through all of their feathering. Males also exhibit what is referred to as sickle feathers, which are the long, curved and sweeping feathers of the tail. Identifying males and females based on their feathering is the most straightforward method of identifying them, and typically the most definitive method by far.
Many, but not all breeds, include different coloring for hens and roosters. If you have a group of chickens that are from the same breed, but one or two show a vibrant, shiny, eye-catching coloring that the others don’t have, then they are likely roosters.
A very few chicken breeds exhibit what is referred to as “hen feathering” which is characterized by male chickens displaying the same short, blunted feathering as their female counterparts. When identifying males versus females in these breeds you will have to rely on relative size, bone structure, and behavior. Infamously, the Sebright breed is a member of the hen-feathered shortlist.
Some hens produce abnormally high levels of testosterone and may exhibit some of these identifiers, but they don’t typically show all of them. Masculine feathering is seldom achieved by these hens, and if they do exhibit masculine feathering then it’s not typically well-defined. Hens can also crow, albeit very rarely. It is more likely to see masculine features than it is to see a hen crow, but I have seen it a few times. I personally had a Porcelain Belgian hen who would crow more convincingly than her mate, especially if they were separated. This hen exhibited no masculine features and no other male behaviors.
If you see a backyard chicken laying an egg, it’s not a rooster. If you suspect a bird of being male, but you’re not sure, isolate them in a cage or separate coop and wait to see if an egg appears. This, of course, is assuming that the bird is 6 months old or older.
If it walks like a rooster, talks like a rooster and looks like a rooster… it’s probably a rooster. If it’s not a rooster but fits the previous criteria, then it’s one really confused hen. Remember to compare between chickens of the same breed, because hens from different breeds can look a lot like a rooster, such as leghorns, Rhode Island Reds, and many commercial hybrid chicken breeds.
A rooster or a hen? How do you tell the difference?