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How Can I Tell If I Have A Rooster?

Updated on December 1, 2010
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E. L. Danvers is a full-time professional writer and investigative journalist based in Southern California.

This rooster shows several classic characteristics: the large comb and wattles, upright stance, direct stare, long neck (hackle) feathers, lean look, and sickle-shaped tail feathers.
This rooster shows several classic characteristics: the large comb and wattles, upright stance, direct stare, long neck (hackle) feathers, lean look, and sickle-shaped tail feathers. | Source

At 4 Weeks

At about four weeks of age, roosters will develop a long, sharp extra claw on the back of their legs.  This is called a “spur,” and is used in fighting with other roosters, and to defend his flock. 

The spur is like an extra toenail.  Both roosters and hens have a total of four toes.  Three toes point forward, and one toe points backwards.  The spur on a rooster is claw #5, and is situated about midway up his shank.

As you watch the birds, their stance will often provide a clue.  Even as chicks only a few weeks old, it can often be possible to tell the difference based on how the chicks stand.  A hen will stand with her back held horizontally, and her head sticking out in front of her.  Whereas a rooster will stand more upright, with his back at a 45 degree angle or better, and his head held high in the air.

At 2-4 Months

Male chicks will start practicing their crowing starting at about 2 months.  However, note that some hens will attempt to crow, too!  It is not too uncommon for a hen to crow occasionally during chicken puberty.  It’s all the hormones, don’tcha know.

At 4-6 Months

As the birds get older, hens will do the “egg squat” if you approach them or touch their backs.  They squat low to the ground and spread their wings slightly.  This stance allows the rooster to mount them more easily. 

Note: the “egg squat” means that the hen is approaching sexual maturity.  She will start laying eggs soon, so keep an eye out for those first eggs!

Adult Birds

Depending on the breed, it can be somewhat difficult to tell if a full-grown chicken is a rooster or a hen.  Hens have combs and wattles (the fleshy flaps on their head), just like roosters. 

A rooster’s colors are often brighter than the hen’s, and a rooster often has a “sickle tail.”  These are tail feathers that are long and curving, rather than the traditional hen’s tail feathers which are typically blunt and stick straight up.

The biggest difference between a rooster and a hen is in the shape of the feathers at the back of the bird’s neck.  These feathers are called the “hackle.”  A hen’s hackle feathers will be short, with a rounded edge.  A rooster’s hackle feathers are typically longer, and end in a point.

Compared to hens of the same breed, a rooster is usually leaner, with a long and angular appearance.  Hens tend to be rounder, squatty, and with a heavier appearance.  Roosters also have a challenging stare, whereas hens tend to have a more gently inquisitive gaze.

Why does it matter if I get rooster chicks?  And how to avoid getting roosters?

There are many reasons to be concerned about whether or not your chicks are male and female.  Many municipalities specify that you can keep hens only – no roosters allowed.  And if you already have a rooster, you may not need or want a second one!

Many prospective chicken owners will buy sex link chickens for this reason.  A sex link breed is one where the newly hatched chicks are different colors, depending on their gender. 

You can also buy pre-sexed chicks, sometimes sold as “pullets only.”  These chicks have been sexed at the factory, but keep in mind that sexing chicks is difficult, with only a 95-97% success rate.  Between 2 and 5% of sexed chickens turn out to be roosters!

“Straight run” chicks have not been sexed.  Statistically, half of them will be male.  Straight run chicks are often a little bit cheaper than sexed chicks, but you need to have a disposal plan in place if you do not want all of those roosters.

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