How Can You Tell a Rooster From a Hen?

By Jen Davis

Keeping multiple roosters in the same flock can lead to fighting and conflict as the birds struggle to assert dominance and mate with the hens. If you have young birds or you are a new poultry keeper, you may not realize how many roosters you have. Adult roosters do not look drastically different from hens, but there are some distinctive differences you can look for that will help you tell the difference between the two genders.

Combs and Wattles

The fleshy-looking growth on the top of your bird's head is called a comb. The similar growth that is dangling from the bottom of the chin area is called the wattle. These growths are typically red on all birds, but both the comb and the wattle tend to be a much deeper, darker red on roosters than they are on hens. The comb and wattle also tend to develop earlier in young roosters. As adults, you can expect your rooster's comb and wattle to be significantly larger and more prominent than those of your hens.

Feathers Make a Difference

Chickens have feathers around their necks called hackle feathers. The hackle feathers on a rooster will be longer and pointed than those of the hens. Your hens' hackle feathers should appear shorter and rounded.

Roosters also have saddle feathers that grow across their backs, pointing down towards their tails. The long tail feathers of a rooster are called sickles. These feathers tend to be curvy and feathery.

Some specific breeds of chicken, such as the Barred Plymouth Rock, have distinctive breed-specific color differences between the males and females. Research your bird's specific breed to determine if there are any breed color characteristics to help you differentiate between males and females.

Behavioral Differences

Roosters are known for their distinctive crowing. In most cases, a crowing bird will be a male. Hens are capable of crowing, but it is unusual for this to happen.

Roosters also tend to stand in a more upright posture and may respond more aggressively or assertively towards new additions to their environments. Sexually mature roosters may also be seen trying to or successfully mating with hens.

Vent Sexing and DNA Testing

Your veterinarian can help you determine whether your chickens are hens or roosters. Vent sexing is done by inspecting the vent that is located between the pelvic bones.

Venting should only be done by an experienced professional, such as a veterinarian.

DNA testing can also be performed to determine chicken gender. Your veterinarian can help you connect with a lab in your area or you may be able to find a service online.