8 Interesting Features of the Silkie Chicken Breed

Silkies: A Distinct Chicken Breed


Silkies are distinctly different from any other chicken breed. They share a unique combination of genetic and behavioral features. In 2003, a group of Japanese researchers mapped the mitochondrial DNA of a Silkie to determine the breed’s genetic position in relation to other birds in the genus Gallus. DNA available at the time for comparison came from a ring-neck pheasant, Japanese quail, two species of partridge, a Redhead duck and a White Leghorn. Before we consider the results of their study, let’s look at eight features that make Silkies so different from other breeds of chicken. Good information to know before raising Silkie chickens!

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Eight Unique Features of the Silkie Chicken Breed

1. Silkie Feathers

Their primary characteristic is their Silkie feathers, which look more like fur than like the smooth feathers of other birds. This feature is caused by the inability of the feather barbs to lock, making the feathers structurally similar to the fluff part of a normally webbed feather. As a result, Silkies can’t fly and are less well protected from wet and cold weather than chickens with smooth, webbed feathers.

While silkie feathering is a unique feature of the Silkie breed of chicken, silkie plumage occasionally appears in other breeds. For instance, in the Hedemora — an ancient landrace breed originating in the northern part of Sweden — silkie-feathered chickens occasionally occur, although in Sweden they are called wool feathered. Silkiness also has been introduced into other breeds as a variety, such as in Japanese (Chabo) bantam chickens of Britain and Europe.

2. Crest

Another interesting feature of the Silkie is the crest, consisting of a spherical puff of feathers on top of the head. Some Silkies have a vaulted skull, meaning the skull arches upward, giving it more surface area and thus making the crest more prominent.

Other breeds of chicken that have crests include Crevecoeur, Houdan, Sultan, and Polish. In fact, to increase the crest size, exhibition Silkies are sometimes crossed with Polish.

3. Turquoise Earlobes

Pale blue earlobes are not uncommon in chicken breeds, but the Silkies’ turquoise earlobes are unique. Not known is whether this color results from an interaction of earlobe pigmentation with the Silkie’s black skin and, if so, what the earlobes’ base color actually is.

4. Feather Legged

Feathers growing down the outsides of the shanks and on the toes is a feature Silkies share with a few other chickens, including Belgian Bearded d’Uccle, Booted, Cochin, Faverolle, Langshan, Sultan and Brahma chickens.

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5. Five Toes

Most birds have four toes. A few chicken breeds have five, Silkies among them. The extra toe grows above the hind toe and curves upward. In most cases, it never touches the ground.

Other breeds with five toes include Dorking, Faverolle, Houdan, and Sultan. However, a different gene is responsible for the extra toe in Dorkings and other breeds originating in Britain and Europe, compared to Silkies and other breeds originating in Asia.

6. Black Skin

Silkies have black skin, along with black muscles and bones, and dark beaks, combs, and wattles. This uncommon feature, known as melanism, is seen in few other breeds. Most of them, like the Sumatra and the Ayam Cemani, originated in Asia. Melanism has been studied more often in Silkies than in any other breed.

Silkie Chickens

7. Persistent Broodiness

Silkie hens are well known for their broodiness and are probably used more often than any other chicken to hatch valuable eggs of less reliable breeds. Since a broody hen stops laying, Silkies tend to have low egg production. If you’re raising laying hens, it’s important to know they don’t lay much more than 100 eggs a year. Further, at least in my experience in raising Silkie chickens, the hens tend to brood more often, and thus lay fewer eggs, as they age.

8. Calm Disposition

A lot of chicken breeds are placid, or become so when raised in a gentle environment. However, Silkies are naturally more calm than most other breeds, tending to be friendly toward humans without any special effort to be tamed.

Silkie roosters tolerate other roosters in the flock more readily than most other breeds. However, they have an undeserved reputation for being easily bullied by more aggressive breeds. In my experience, they are not that readily intimidated. For example, I’ve seen a Silkie rooster attack a pugnacious guinea trying to horn in on his morning grain.

Although lots of other breeds share some of the Silkies’ unusual features, no other chicken combines these uncommon characteristics in one breed. Surprisingly, then, the Japanese scientists found that Silkies are 99.77 percent genetically the same as a White Leghorn — a bird with smooth feathers, no crest, white earlobes, clean legs, four toes, yellow skin, a red comb, pink muscles, doesn’t brood readily, and is notoriously flighty. Go figure!

Why are you interested in raising Silkie chickens?

  • Thanks for the interesting article. I’d noticed the friendliness, five toes and the feathers, but had no idea about the other characteristics you mention. I have just the two females at present, but may get a cockerel in spring.

  • Silkies were recommended in 4-H to the younger exhibiters because of their docile disposition. My daughter called ours fairy chickens when she was little. Haven’t had them for a long time and now at 22yo she wants to get some to hatch quail eggs for her, has anyone done this with success?

  • Nice article. I have a Silkie that is totally my baby. She tends to lay when she wants to set. She has an awesome personality.

  • I live in Delaware does anyone know were I could get a silkie have wanted one for years

  • lso need info on perch/coop – just have one and he just wandered in about a year ago-sweet bird but noisey

  • Need info on good food for a silkie roooster mine seems to want to eat a fern-what should I feed him?

  • You are so right on in your information on Silkies according to my experience. I guess I’ll quit trying to get Princess Fluffy off the nest!! Last time she hatched all the other silkies eggs along with hers.
    They are so wonderful and I love all 9 of mine.

  • I have an all black silky. She is very sweet but she has started to lay in the lay box and won’t come out. Is it because of the cold? When I bring her out she acts totally normal. She doesn’t act sick or anything. She’s still laying eggs everyday.

    • It may just be the cold. Maybe heat up her little pen? She may also just feel safer there.

  • Does anyone know where I can purchase some silkie chicks? I’ve found a few places but I’d have to buy like 25. I certainly don’t need that many.

    • My Pet Chicken will let you order as little as 3 of some breeds. For Bantam’s its often 5 or so. Have had great luck ordering from them. Enjoy getting some Silkies! I love mine.

  • I have a Silkie hen, named Hay Hay from the movie Moana. She is almost one year old and is the sweetest chicken. She follows me everywhere I go and every night at 6:30, she walks through my doggie door and greets me in the kitchen. I open the door and she runs into her nesting box in my garage. Around 8:00 a.m. she comes to the door to be let in and runs back through the doggie door. She spends the day roaming through the ferns in my backyard and sitting in my lap for me to pet her. Sweet, sweet, sweet.


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8 Interesting Features of the Silkie Chicken Breed