How To Tell A Rooster From A Hen: 5 Easy Differences Explained

Are you wondering whether you have a rooster or a hen in your flock?

For a beginner it can actually be very difficult to spot the difference.

However once you learn these simple differences between a rooster and a hen it will be much easier for you to spot the difference.

In this article we will teach you how to tell a rooster from a hen with simple explanations and images.

We also share 5 easy methods you can use to tell the difference.

Rooster vs Hen Appearance

Rhode Island Red Rooster and Hen
Rhode Island Red Rooster (Right) and Hen (Left)

The first picture is of a Rhode Island Red rooster and hen. Their appearance is quite different so it is easy to tell the rooster from the hen.

However can you guess in the second picture below?

Rooster Vs Hen

You could be forgiven for thinking there are two roosters and a hen.

Actually the two showing nice combs are hens (a cross between a Welsummer rooster and a Breda hen). And the one without the comb is actually a Breda rooster (pure Bredas do not have combs).

So sometimes appearances can be deceptive!

Below we will explain the common differences between roosters and hens.

This should make it easier for you to tell a rooster from a hen.

Rooster Appearance

Plymouth Rock Rooster
Plymouth Rock Rooster

I am sure when most poeple think of a rooster they imagine the iconic image of the rooster with a large comb, head thrown back to crow and a long rooster tail.

Roosters will have a larger comb and wattles. Both should be firm to the touch, feel a little waxy and have good, deep coloration.

The neck and shoulder area will usually be adorned with hackles. These are long, pointed neck feathers that flow down into the back. Hen’s feathers will be more rounded. Roosters will also have tail feathers (also known as sickle feathers) which gives them shape. They curve up and gracefully arc down into the tail itself.

They also have a larger and more muscular body than hens. Their chest should be fairly broad as should the shoulders.

Hen Appearance

Plymouth Rock Chicken
Plymouth Rock Hen

Although hens do have combs and wattles, they are nowhere near as large and impressive as the roosters.

The color of their feathers is usually more subdued than the boys too. This is intentional and gives then hen natural camouflage for when she has to sit on those eggs. She should blend in with the background and hopefully not be seen by predators.

Hens are also smaller which helps if they have to move quickly to avoid trouble.

For more help make sure to read how to sex chickens.

Rooster vs Hen Behavior

Barbu D’Uccle Rooster And Hen
Barbu D’Uccle rooster (right) and hen (left)

Rooster Behavior

As the flock leader, it is the rooster’s job to keep the flock safe, keep subordinates in line and mate with the hens as frequently as possible.

When a rooster is among the hens he will be watchful and will rarely eat until the ladies have finished.

He will either herd them or follow them keeping a watchful eye for predators or unusual things. If he sees something suspicious he will sound the alarm and lead the hens away from danger.

Roosters are constantly on the lookout and an exceptional rooster will defend his flock to the death.

When he finds something tasty for the hens he will draw their attention to it by making a tuk sound to tell them he has found something interesting for them. He may repeatedly pick up and drop snacks to display what he has found for them.

If a rooster wants to mate he may do a little dance for her to try and get her to squat for him. If she is not interested then he will move away and try his luck elsewhere.

Some breeds of rooster are known to assist in selecting nest sites and raising chicks with the hen, but these are the exception not the norm.

Hen Behavior

Hens rule as far as nesting and raising chicks go. Otherwise they adopt a more submissive role and let the rooster be out in front and in charge.

Inside the coop roosters will rarely spend time in the nesting boxes, this is the domain of the hens.

When out ranging the hens will talk softly among themselves. This helps them to stay in contact with each other and not get separated from the flock (there is safety in numbers). However when compared to roosters, hens are much more submissive and will be more careful when ranging.

They can be very chatty in group situations or when travelling as a flock, but in general their demeanor is much quieter and more subdued than the roosters.

Hens will adopt a submissive squat when they are ready for mating. However not all hens may mate with him. If they do not like him then they may refuse to accept him as a mate.

Although it seems the hens rely on the rooster for food and safety, they are not helpless little creatures. They can be quite independently minded at times and a flock of hens can certainly function without a rooster.

In those situations an older hen will take charge of the flock and become the leader of the group.

5 Easy Ways To Tell Roosters From Hens

Hackle Feathers

Hackle Feathers
Notice the hackle feathers on the rooster (left)

Hackle feathers are the long flowing feathers that grow around the neck of a rooster.

These feathers are beautifully designed to fall gracefully around the shoulders. These long feathers are pointed at the tips whereas a hen’s neck feathers are much shorter and more rounded.

If your chicken has beautiful long flowing hackle feathers then they are a rooster.

Rooster Tail

Rooster and Hen Tail Feathers
Notice the rooster’s tail feathers (back left) compared to the hens?

If you look at a rooster’s tail you will see he has sickle feathers. These feathers give the rooster that typical rooster look of high curved tail feathers. The older the rooster gets, the better his sickles will look.

Hens do not have the high curved tail feathers.

Roosters also have saddle feathers in this area.

These are similar to hackle feathers in that they drop gracefully either side of the tail feathers adding a look of seamless feathering.

If you chicken has high curved sickle feathers they are a rooster.

Egg Laying

Egg laying is reserved solely for the hens.

You may have heard tales of rooster eggs but they are actually fairy eggs from the hens.

Also, you do not need a rooster to make the hen lay the egg. She will lay eggs all by herself. So if you have a chicken that is laying eggs they are definitely a hen and not a rooster.

Feet and Legs

Rooster and Hen Legs
Rooster Legs (Left) and Hen Legs (Right). Notice the spurs on the rooster’s legs?

Roosters will have bigger feet and sturdier legs.

In general roosters can weigh a few more pounds than the hens so he needs a stronger base to support that body.

If you look at the rooster he will also have much longer spurs. They grow in towards the opposing leg and can grow to several inches long.

Combs and Wattles

Rooster Vs Hen Comb
Rooster’s Comb (right) and Hen’s Comb (left)

The difference between a rooster’s comb and wattles and a hens can be quite remarkable.

A rooster’s comb will be much larger, waxy to the touch and bright red. Whereas a hen’s comb is much smaller and not as bright.

The hen will actually choose a rooster based on several criteria, one of them being the size and condition of his comb.

Chick To Adult Life Cycle Differences Explained

Life Cycle Of A Chicken

For each of the stages of development from chick to adult we will explain the key visual differences between roosters and hens.

Chicks

It can be very difficult to tell a rooster from a hen as a chick.

The only way to know for sure is to buy sexed chicks, or watch them grow and determine it by their behavior.

If you have zoning or space limitations your best choice is sexed chicks.

There are a few ways to tell the difference between hens and roosters as chicks and they include:

Autosexing: The sexes of some breeds are easy to spot at hatching because of different coloration or other characteristic. These chickens are known as autosexing and includes breeds such as the Cream Legbar, Bielefelder and Jaerhon breeds.

Feather Coloration: Some breeds (such as Welsummers and Barred Rocks) can be sexed by their feather coloration. For example the Barred Rock males have a more diffused yellow spot on their head. Welsummers have chipmunk stripes in both sexes, but the eye stripe is better defined in the females than the males.

Delayed Feathering: Certain pure breeds can be sexed by the wing feathers. You will need to have a fast feathering hen crossed with a slow feathering rooster or vice versa. These chicks can be sexed by comparing the growth rate of the wing feathers. This is a task for the professionals!

Sex Links: This involves using a particular breed of rooster with certain breeds of female to produce easily determined offspring such as Golden Comets and Black Stars. As chicks Golden Comet Roosters will be white, whereas hens will be a brownish color.

If your chick does not fall into these categories then you will have to observe them carefully and wait until they reach adolescence.

Adolescents

As adolescents the chickens are now taking on more gender assigned characteristics of their sex.

With roosters you will see them developing larger combs and wattles.

They will start to develop hackle feathers on the neck and sickle tail feathers around 12 weeks or so. They will look a bit puny to start with but eventually the pointed hackle feathers and the curving sickle feathers will give the typical rooster look.

If you look carefully you will see them standing taller and being bolder.

They are intensely curious and seemingly unafraid.

A big sign is they will start to crow around seven weeks or so.

Hens on the other hand will be slower to develop their comb and wattles.

Their body will more rounded and curvier than the boys. She will be lower to the ground and lighter in weight.

As for her behavior, you can expect them to be quieter and have a lower stance posture. Hens will continue to communicate in cheeps and trills, only the boys will crow.

Adults

The typical badult arnyard rooster is easy to spot.

He will be alert and have a glorious plumage with large comb and wattles and regal tail feathers.

However some roosters can be more difficult to spot, so how do you spot them in a crowd?

It is all about attitude.

Even is the rooster does not look like your typical rooster, they will have a rooster attitude – all you have to do is watch carefully.

If he is a subordinate rooster then he will look to the alpha rooster for cues and direction. He will learn from the head Rooster and the time will come when he issues a challenge for supremacy. If he wins the fight, he will become the flock master and if he loses he will remain as a subordinate.

Once your hens are mature enough to start laying eggs there will be some behavioral changes to note.

As she starts to look around for nesting spots, she will become more vocal. Once she has started laying eggs the other hens seem to accept her as one of them and will become a bit less stand-offish with her.

We discuss visual differences between adult rooster and hens here.

Summary

So now you know your roosters from your hens.

There really is no substitute for observing your chickens. You can gain a lot of knowledge about them by sitting and watching them interact.

You will soon be able to spot the roosters among the hens.

The secret to being able to tell a rooster from a hen is practice and patience.

Getting along with your Rooster also demands observation, patience and practice. There are many awful stories out there about aggressive roosters, but they are in the minority.

Learn about the different roles of the hen and roosters and you will become a great chicken mom or dad.

Do not worry if you got the sex wrong though.

Even the experts are wrong 10% of the time, hence the occasional oops in the sexed chicks you buy.

How do you tell a rooster from a hen? Let us know in the comments section below…

Chris Lesley Bio Picture
Chris Lesley has been Raising Chickens for over 20 years and is a fourth generation chicken keeper. She can remember being a young child when her grandad first taught her how to hold and care for chickens. She also holds a certificate in Animal Behavior and Welfare and is interested in backyard chicken health and care.

3 Comments

  1. My chicks are about 8 weeks old and one is definitely male. He’s much bigger with a big comb and wattle. He’s rude to the females though, by pushing them away from the food so that he can eat first

  2. Out of all the blogs I receive about chickens, I enjoy your articles the best! They are well-thought out snd highly informative. I always walk away with some tidbit of information that I did not have before. Thank you. Keep them coming!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*