It can be difficult to tell the difference between male and female chickens, especially when they’re young. Here are some characteristics to look out for that’ll help you separate the hens from the roosters.
What do roosters look like? Compared to hens, roosters are typically larger, have thicker legs, spurs, more colorful feathers, and are more assertive and territorial.
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How Do You Tell the Difference Between a Chicken and a Rooster?
There are a few different ways you can tell if a chicken is a hen (female) or a rooster (male). The most obvious physical differences are:
Something that’s common in the animal kingdom, and this relates to a lot of birds is that the males are much more colorful and vibrant than the females.
Male birds are more colorful because they have to compete with other males for mating partners and territory. Their colors can attract females, and warn off other roosters.
If you see a chicken with an iridescent plumage or a contract of colors across their coats standing next to a plain brown chicken, you should know which is the rooster.
You can also spot a rooster by the formation and shape of their feathers. They have a thicker set of hackle (neck), back, saddle, and tail feathers.
They are also more pointed than a hen’s feathers. Male chickens also have longer tail feathers, you can almost always see the difference when males and females are together.
Combs and Wattles
You know those red things on a chicken’s head and chin? The one on the top of their head is called a “comb”, and the one dangling from their chin is called a “wattle”.
Generally speaking, a rooster will have a larger comb and wattle. They are often redder too, especially when they’re maturing.
A chicken’s legs is another tell-tale sign of their gender. Roosters have stronger, thicker legs, and they also have something that hens don’t, spurs.
Spurs are like an extra claw that sticks out from the back of their legs just above their feet. They may look fairly harmless, but roosters use spurs while fighting and they can do some serious damage.
At What Age Can You Tell If a Chicken Is a Rooster?
Sexing chicks is a complicated process. There are a few different methods hatcheries use to tell the sex of chick within a few days of hatching, but it takes some practice, a keen eye, and isn’t 100%
If you want to be 100% of the sex of a chicken, you need to wait a few weeks.
At around 6-8 weeks, rooster’s will usually have visibly larger and redder combs and wattles than female chicks.
They will also have more of a “strut” when they are moving around more freely. It’s hard to explain in words, but you’ll notice a difference between how male and female chicks hold themselves and walk around.
I will point out that there are also some breeds of chickens that are sex-linked and auto-sexed. The gender of these can be determined by their color and markings when they hatch.
For regular chicks, unless you know how to perform vent-sexing or feather-sexing, you’ll have to wait for physical characteristics to develop to be sure.
Related content - What is a rooster's life expectancy?
Why Are Roosters More Colorful Than Hens?
Many male birds are more colorful than their female counterparts.
There are two main reasons for this;
The first is to attract females by demonstrating sexual dominance over other roosters with less colorful displays.
The classic example of this can be seen with peacocks. Studies have shown that the peacock with the most feathers and the larger their display when they fan them out, the more mating partners they attract.
With roosters, evolution has followed a similar path. The more colorful they are in the wild, the more attractive they are to potential mates.
The second reason relates to defending their territory and their flock.
If a predator is detected, a rooster will sound an alarm. Hens will flee and hide, and the rooster will stand and fight or use their more visible colors to draw the predator away from the hens.
Do Roosters Sound Different Than Hens?
The answer to this question is not as obvious as you may think!
Typically, there is a big difference between the sounds roosters and hens make. Hens typically bawk, squawk, and cluck.
They also have their own “egg song”, which is a series of these noises to announce they’ve laid an egg.
Roosters, on the other hand, let rip with that familiar long crowing noise. I’m sure everyone is very familiar with a rooster's crow. If you’ve never owned one you will have heard them on TV or internet footage.
The thing that surprises a lot of chicken owners is that hens can actually crow like a rooster too.
It’s not that common, and is usually triggered by the reasons I cover in this post - can hens crow like a rooster.
But don’t be too surprised if you hear your hen crow.
In Summary - What Do Roosters Look Like?
You now know how to tell the difference between hens and roosters from an early age, and the major characters that will help you tell a rooster apart from a hen.
Personally, I think roosters are magnificent looking animals. Seeing one stand tall on the roof of a barn and crow in the morning is about as iconic as it gets for rural living.
They vary a lot in appearance and behavior from breed to breed. But side-by-side, there’s no mistaking the difference between a rooster and a hen.
Next time you’re unsure, take a look at them and ask yourself; do they have a large wattle and comb? Do they have spurs? Are they colorful?