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3 Fool Proof Ways to Tell Roosters from Hens

Chicken sexing at a young age is a bit of an art. Even with years of experience I find myself staring down the growing babies looking for signs that they’ll be egg-laying hens or yet another rooster.

chick looking up at test Eggs or anger? 3 fool proof ways to tell roosters from hens

I wanted to share what I look for when my chicks are growing up. They should help you out if you’re wondering if you should be prepping the soup pot or the nest boxes.

There are several ways to tell roosters from hens, some are pretty obvious and some not so much. A few methods can even be misleading.


blue, green and pale olive eggs in a white ceramic egg holder

If it lays an egg it’s a hen! It doesn’t matter how large and red the comb is, how big it’s spurs are or how loudly it crows. If there is an egg it is a hen.

However, that’s going to take 18-20+ weeks to happen so we’ll go over some more helpful ways to tell hens from roosters.

I’m adding this for some comic relief but at the same time you’d be surprised how often I see Facebook posts asking why they have one rooster and one hen but they get two eggs a day.

I’ve seen hens with spurs, hens that crow and even hens that mount other hens. It doesn’t matter how rooster-y they act, if they lay eggs you can be certain you have a hen.

Saddle and Hackle Feathers

rooster with secondary sex characteristics highlighted

This is my main method of telling hens from roosters. The object here is to identify the boys. If there aren’t any saddle feathers you can be pretty certain you’ve got a lady.

There are a few exceptions to this rule. Silkie, Sebright, and some Golden Campine roosters are called ‘hen feathered’ because they lack the district saddle and hackle feathers.

Roosters have elongated, narrow and pointy saddle feathers on their sides right in front of the tail. They spill over the sides like a waterfall.

These feathers start showing up around 8-10 weeks. Usually by 12 weeks they’ll be impossible to miss. Depending on the breed they may be colored differently than the other feathers.

Hackle feathers are found on the neck, in roosters they are also elongated and pointy. Hens also have hackle feathers but they will be more rounded at the ends. I pretty much ignore the necks and trust the saddle feathers to tell me what I need to know.

If you’ve ever seen two roosters fighting and it looks like they swallowed an umbrella, that’s the hackle feathers in action.

Rooster Tail Shape

The most obvious tail clue is the presence of sickle feathers. Sickle feathers are the long, beautiful arched tail feathers that roosters have.

Unfortunately, they seem to take the brunt of rooster-on-rooster aggression and they don’t always stay stunning. I’ve also noticed a 50/50 shot on my Cochin roosters having long tail feathers.

Cochins are a very fluffy, soft-feathered breed and these features can be a little harder to see from far away or if you aren’t sure what you’re looking for.

The tails can also give you a few clues before those pretty sickles feathers grow in. When the tail feathers grow in you’ll notice that hens tails end bluntly. The feathers themselves will have rounded ends.

Rooster tails will start to arc at the end and the feathers will be pointier. In general, roosters seem to be pointier, both in appearance and personality.

Breed Specific Sex Characteristics:

Red on the wings is a sign that an Easter Egger chick is a rooster. All my EE roos have been evil but they are so beautiful!

easter egger rooster

That guy above was a jerk, you can see the red coloring on his wing. If you look closely you can also see the pointed hackles and the arching tail.

Male Welsummer chicks have a black chest that shows up when they lose the down and start going in regular feathers. The chest on pullets (females) will be red.

Barred chicks will show a difference as day-old chicks, males will have a large light-colored spot on the head and on females it will be smaller. I’ve never tried it but it’s supposed to be 80% correct.

A few not-so-helpful methods

Now that we’ve covered all the things I do look for, I want to tell you some of the less helpful advice on chicken sexing I’ve seen thrown around.

Comb Size

Comb size is hands down the most misleading characteristic used to sex chickens in a mixed flock.

If you’ve only got one kind of chickens you’re probably safe to compare and guess.

There are a few generalities that have some truth behind them, the only useful one is rooster combs turn red sooner than hens. This is something I look for but I’m not about to bet money on it.

Going back to those Facebook groups, I was once in a chicken group conversation with someone insisting that his hen was laying 3 eggs a day because the rest were roosters. The rest were not roosters, they were leghorns with giant floppy combs typical for the breed.

Not all roosters will get a giant comb like that pretty boy on the Kellogg box, comb shape and size is determined by genetics. I live in a cold climate with awful winters and I personally favor chickens with small combs for their cold hardiness.

Check out my post on heritage breed chickens built for cold weather to find out more about that.

My Cackle Hatchery surprise box did provide me a with a few large comb breeds. The largest combs on my farm belong to my two brown leghorn hens.


Spurs are most likely to show up on roosters but hens can have them. And all chicks will have a little bump where the spur might grow. Right now I have a Cuckoo Maran with big old spurs, unrelated but shes a great mom.

brahma rooster in a field

They don’t grow in until around 3-8 months so I don’t put a lot of importance on them at all. By the way, this is Bruce, he was my favorite rooster ever.

He had giant spurs and overall bad feet but he was a sweetheart and a big reason why Brahmas are my favorite chickens.


Hens can crow. Did you know that?

Crowing is much more common in roosters but those egg-laying ladies can do it too. It’s most likely to happen in a flock without a rooster.

I hope you have found these chicken sexing methods helpful. Figuring out what type of chick you have and if it’s a boy or girl are the trickiest part of having a mixed flock.

Both those things are easier when you only have one type to compare. I love having a mix of egg colors and personalities in my backyard flocks so I’ll keep it complicated as long as I have chickens.

mixed flock of chickens

Speaking of a mixed flock, how many roosters do you see in this picture? I’ll put the answer at the bottom.

Don’t forget to PIN this to your Chicken board, check out my Chicken Page for more information or start here:

white chick with head cocked to the side text overlay ordering chickens online
chicken walking in the snow with text overlap, cheap and easy ways to entertain chickens

There are THREE roosters in that shot, from front to back: a giant grey Cochin, an EE and a silver laced Cochin.

flock of chickens with the roosters highlighted in red


Saturday 4th of November 2023

In your count the roosters pic, near front just behind the foremost gray and white bird, there's a multicolored one ( black tail. Tan.& Rust colored feathers) What breed is this. Recently given one just like it, but breed unknown.


Tuesday 7th of November 2023

He was an Easter Egger mix that was born here, he could be anything lol


Tuesday 24th of October 2023

This helped a lot! But do you know hiw to tell when they are babies?


Wednesday 25th of October 2023

Unless you have a sexlink breed where they are different colors the only way to tell as chicks is by vent sexing. It's not 100% accurate and you can hurt them so I don't even try

Rene Rogers

Friday 6th of October 2023

Thanks for the laughs!😆😆😆 I love reading about chickens and am astounded at what some people say or think. This is a great post with great information.


Monday 18th of September 2023

New to chicken raising and have a dozen chickens, mixed breeds. I have one hen that definitely let's the others know she is boss. My Wynadottes are beautiful, but are a more aggressive breed thus far. They are around 14 weeks old and should be getting ready to start laying. What should I put in their coop for a comfortable nesting box padding, or is anything even necessary?


Tuesday 12th of September 2023

I absolutely adore your writing style, I read a lot - and I write. So that’s the first thing that struck me as I was learning all about how “to tell a him from a her”. I love the comic bits - it makes learning so much more fun, and easier to remember than a straight monotone piece where it’s “just the facts, sir” lol - anyway, my question is do these same rules about hackle feathers, saddle feathers, and combs/wattles apply to the smaller breeds as well? I am pretty sure I have 5 Japanese Bantams mixed with Leghorns. They were hatched in early June. I am 100% new to chicken keeping, my next door neighbors have at least 15-20 chickens, and a couple of their hens made way to my backyard to brood, hatch, and raise their babies. I have literally no idea what I’m doing, just looking up questions as they come up, and I’ve figured out that a lot of what I find online is an opinion, not necessarily a fact. So I have learned to be careful about what I take seriously, and what I’ve read here seems to be legit. You must be legit with all those chickens, you’ve got to know what you’re talking about - that’s a lot of beaks to feed! So, my last questions is if I have Japanese bantams, how large of a coop will I need to properly house these 5 chickens (currently 12-13 weeks old) for the winter? They are 100% free ranging now. It’s summer, and the weather is still warm/hot. But like they said in Game of Thrones, “Winter is coming”…I have to start thinking about how to protect them from the cold and rain once fall/winter comes along. For now, they were taught by their mom who has since rejoined her flock next door, to sleep in the orange tree - at the very top. I stepped in a month ago when mama left, and I hang out with them at dusk, and encourage them to keep sleeping up there. I’m just worried about the rain and cold. I have at least one young rooster, who has let his size go to his head, and pecks the others relentlessly. It must not be too much of a problem, because the others don’t seem too afraid of him, they will “stand their ground” but I am concerned about what will happen inside a coop with this overly aggressive (99% sure) rooster. I have named him Arnold. Actually, he named himself Arnold. He is big, and like the Terminator, “will be back”, hence the name Arnold for the actor that played the part. Anyway, I have gone on way too long here. I’m just nervous because I have no idea what I’m doing, and I don’t want to hurt them, or do something wrong that makes them sick. Any advice - about any aspect of raising and caring for chickens will be welcomed and appreciated. And thanks for providing the info already on here.