How to Tell Male and Female Chickens Apart

When you buy chicks, it’s impossible to tell if you’re buying male or female birds. They’re too young when they’re in stores to have identifying markers unless they are autosex breeds. (We’ll talk more about what that means below.)

Many breeders will have a professional whose job it is to check a chick’s sex organs the day they hatch. This is called “sexing.”

Even the professionals are only right 90% of the time, and you may end up with a rooster in your backyard chicken flock. You can often buy chicks that have been sexed, and up your chances of getting mostly females. However, you may not care if you have males or females and, therefore, can buy chicks that are not sexed at a slightly lower price.

What are Baby Chicks Called?

baby chickens in a hospital nursery

Pullets: The Potential Egg Layers

First, let’s talk about the potential egg layers of the futurepullets. These are your aspiring hens AKA egg layers.

Cockerels: The Emerging Rooster Brigade

The cockerels are the young guns of the rooster world. They’ll soon be crowing in the wee morning hours and protecting the ladies of your flock during the day and night.

When Can You Tell if a Chicken is a Male or Female? 

Determining the sex of a chicken accurately often becomes more feasible as the birds age.  Currently, there is no way to tell if you have a male or female chicken while it’s still in the egg. And, it doesn’t matter if you’ve {incubated} them or the mother is brooding, you’ll have to wait to find out the sex. 

Here’s a rough guideline for when you can start identifying the sex of chickens:

  • Hatchlings (Day 1 – 7 days): In the first few days after moving from an incubator to the brooder, it’s generally impossible to distinguish the gender of chicks without the help of professional vent sexers or by relying on autosexing breeds that exhibit distinct color patterns from birth.
  • Chicks (7 days – 4 weeks): As chicks grow, you may start to notice some subtle differences. In certain breeds, males may have slightly larger combs, wattles, legs, and feet than females, and their behavior can be more assertive. However, these differences are not always pronounced, and relying on them alone can be unreliable.
  • Young Chicks (4 weeks – 8 weeks): Around 4 to 8 weeks of age, some chicken breeds may begin to exhibit more noticeable distinctions in comb and wattle size, feather patterns, and behavior. However, this is still not as reliable as identifying mature birds.
  • 8-10 Weeks Old: At this stage, many chicken breeds start to show clearer signs of gender differentiation. Roosters often develop larger and more colorful combs and wattles, while pullets’ combs and wattles remain smaller and less vibrant. Additionally, you might begin to see the emergence of saddle and hackle feathers in cockerels, which are absent in pullets.
  • Mature Birds (5-6 months): For most chicken breeds, the most reliable time to determine a chicken’s gender is when they reach maturity, typically around 5 to 6 months old. By this age, the distinctions in comb size, wattle size, feather patterns, and behavior become much more apparent, making it easier to confidently identify hens from roosters.

Keep in mind that these are general guidelines, and the ability to distinguish between male and female chickens can vary depending on the breed and individual variation. Let’s talk about the different physical characteristics of male and female chickens.

Identifying Male and Female Chickens

chicken comb and wattles

Combs and Wattles

These fleshy, conspicuous growths are perched atop the chicken’s head and dangle from their neck, right below the beak. They can range from a pink to dark red in color. 

Combs and wattles serve multiple functions, from regulating body temperature to signaling social status within the flock.

Roosters vs. Hens: When it comes to size roosters often take the lead. Their combs and wattles tend to be larger compared to those of hens. The vibrant red hue of these appendages in roosters serves as a bold advertisement of their masculinity, effectively saying, “Look at me, ladies—I’m the one to choose!”

In contrast, hens usually sport smaller, more modest combs and wattles. These subdued features are a reflection of their role as the egg-laying stars of the poultry world. While they may not flaunt the flamboyance of roosters, their combs and wattles serve their purposes with understated elegance.


rooster with spurs

If you’ve ever seen a chicken with pointy, horn-like protrusions on the back of their legs, you’ve spotted a rooster’s spurs. Spurs are sharp, bony growths that roosters use in self-defense and during skirmishes with other roosters. Hens, on the other hand, usually lack these spiky accessories.

Saddle Feathers and Hackle Feathers

Roosters: The gentlemen of the flock often showcase long, glossy saddle feathers that elegantly cascade down their backs. These saddle feathers are a hallmark of roosterhood, and they play a crucial role in courtship rituals. 

In addition to saddle feathers, roosters exhibit pointed hackle feathers around their necks, forming a stylish collar of sorts. The hackle feathers are iridescent and can shimmer in the sunlight, making the rooster’s allure even more irresistible to potential mates.

Hens: In contrast, hens typically lack the opulent adornment of saddle and pointed hackle feathers. Their plumage is more practical and uniform, designed to keep them warm and help them blend into their surroundings while they diligently go about their egg-laying duties. The absence of these flashy feathers is one of the key visual cues that distinguish hens from their rooster counterparts.

Behavioral Clues

In the quest to distinguish between roosters and hens, it’s not just about physical attributes; it’s also about understanding chicken behavior. 


rooster crowing

First on our behavioral radar is the unmistakable sound that announces the break of day— crowing. It’s a quintessential feature of rural mornings, and it’s usually the roosters who are the maestros of this dawn serenade.

Crowing is a rooster’s way of staking their claim to the territory and establishing dominance within the flock. The dawn crowing is like a rooster’s battle cry, declaring to all that he’s the guardian of the coop, ready to protect his hens and assert his presence.

Hens’ Vocalizations: While hens aren’t known for the same grandiose displays, they do have their own vocalizations. Hens can cluck, squawk, and make various other noises, especially when they’re laying eggs or communicating with their chicks. However, these sounds are usually more understated compared to the triumphant crowing of their male counterparts.

Nesting Habits

Another behavior that sets hens apart from roosters is their meticulous approach to nesting. Hens have an innate instinct to seek out cozy, secluded spots within the coop or nest boxes where they can deposit their precious eggs.

Hens invest time and effort in finding the perfect nesting spots. They’ll carefully arrange the bedding, settle in, and lay their eggs. You’ll often find them proudly clucking away after laying an egg, almost as if they’re announcing their latest achievement to the world.

Roosters: In contrast, roosters primary focus is on protecting the flock and, of course, impressing the hens with their majestic displays. While they may occasionally visit the nest boxes out of curiosity, they’re more interested in strutting their stuff and keeping an eye out for potential threats.

Eggscellent Evidence

Perhaps the most foolproof method for identifying your hens vs roosters is collecting eggs. Only hens lay eggs, so if you discover a stash of fresh eggs, you’ve identified a hen. But remember, young chickens don’t start laying eggs until they’re around five to six months old. So, this method is most effective for mature birds.

Vent Sexing: Best Left to Professionals

While there are various methods for identifying chicken genders, there’s one technique that’s best left to professionals: vent sexing. Vent sexing involves examining the cloaca, or vent area, of a chicken to determine its gender. It’s a delicate and precise process that requires experience and training.

Why Leave it to the Pros 

Vent sexing is a highly specialized skill because it involves assessing tiny differences in the anatomy of male and female chickens. Making a mistake during vent sexing can harm the chicken or result in incorrect gender identification. Therefore, unless you are trained and experienced, it’s advisable to avoid attempting vent sexing on your own.

The Autosexing Phenomenon

high society baby chicken male and female

Autosexing is a genetic phenomenon where certain chicken breeds possess distinctive traits that make it remarkably easy to differentiate between male and female chicks immediately after they hatch. These breeds have inherited unique genetic markers that manifest in the color and patterns of their down feathers, providing an unmistakable visual cue for gender identification.

Popular Autosexing Breeds

Two of the most well-known autosexing breeds are the Cream Legbar and the Rhode Island Red. 

Cream Legbar: Hailing from the United Kingdom, the Cream Legbar is a charming breed renowned for its autosexing traits. In Cream Legbar chicks, males and females exhibit distinct down feather patterns and colors right from the moment they hatch. Male Cream Legbar chicks typically display a lighter-colored down with a clear chipmunk-like stripe pattern down their backs, while female chicks sport a darker, more uniform coloration with a distinct dark spot on their heads. This clear contrast in appearance makes Cream Legbars one of the most beloved autosexing breeds.

Rhode Island Red: The Rhode Island Red is a classic American breed cherished for its prolific egg-laying abilities and hardy disposition. In this breed, autosexing is achieved through the color of the chicks’ down feathers. Male Rhode Island Red chicks often have a lighter-colored down with noticeable yellow stripes on their heads, while female chicks have a darker, more solid coloration. This clear distinction allows poultry keepers to confidently separate the genders from day one.

In Conclusion

Telling male and female chickens apart is a bit of an art and science. 

Many back yard chicken farmers prefer to buy chicks that have been sexed when it’s time to replenish their coop so that they don’t have to worry about having extra roosters. Having more than one rooster in a coop can lead to territory disputes and fights. 

However, if you decided to incubate eggs, you’ll have to take your chances as Mother Nature is in control of the sex of the chicks. But that’s part of the fun and surprise of it all, isn’t it? To watch the natural and beautiful process of life unfolding in your coop. 

For more information about {caring for chicks} right {out of the incubator}, including {feeding} and {temperature control,} check out one of our other blog posts on hatching baby chicks. 

We hope this post has helped you be able to identify the sex of your chickens and that you have a happy day of chicken keeping.

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