Chicken breed identification: It’s all in the details January 11, 2013

At My Pet Chicken, we get lots of questions from folks who would like assistance with chicken breed identification. We can often help… but sometimes we just aren’t given enough information to provide an educated guess!

Chicken breed identification - not enough detail in this photo

This would not be a good photo to use for chicken breed identification, since we can’t even see the bird’s legs, much less her comb. This is a Light Brahma, but from this photo, she might be a Delaware, Columbian Wyandotte, or any of a number of breeds with Columbian-patterened plumage.

So, be sure to provide details. A picture is always helpful, but keep in mind that it will have to show these details, or else you’ll face the self-same problem with chicken breed identification as you’d have if you provided an incomplete verbal description. Even when we can see your chicken’s legs in the photo, for example, their color might not be apparent. In some cases, the colors in the photo may not accurately reflect what your chicken looks like in real life.

So, help us out with some additional information.

Characteristics used in chicken breed identification

It’s all in the details.  Here are the specifics we need in order to make a good guess about what breed your chicken is:

  1. Feather color (buff, splash, red, black)
  2. Feather pattern (laced, spotted, spangled, pencilled, etc.)
  3. Comb type (single, pea, rose, etc.)
  4. Leg color (slate, willow, yellow, white, black, etc.)
  5. Skin color (yellow, white, black)
  6. Number of toes (4 or 5?)
  7. Feather leggedness
  8. Unusual feather texture (silkied, frizzled)
  9. Crestedness
  10. Tuftedness
  11. Taillessness
  12. Beardedness
  13. Egg color laid (white, brown, blue, green, chocolate, etc.)
  14. Large fowl or bantam
  15. Body shape and other factors ( tail length, tail angle, upright carriage, naked neck, etc.)

Because so many chicken breeds can be superficially described the same way, we  need a lot of  information to make a reasonable guess. For instance, when we get an email asking for chicken breed identification help, but the only detail provided is that the hen is black… well , it isn’t a question we can answer with any reasonable assurance of accuracy. There are numerous breeds that can be black or mostly black, including

On the other hand, just knowing the comb type can help narrow the field considerably and help with chicken breed identification. For example, a single comb would narrow the above list to four breeds (Jersey Giants, Australorps, Black Copper Marans, Cochins). Lack of feathered legs would narrow the list to two (Jersey Giants and Australorps). And knowing the skin is white rather than yellow would mean that the most reasonable guess would be that you have an Australorp. (Jersey Giants are also much different in shape and size than Australorps! But that difference might not be apparent, depending on the age of the bird.)

Even with with a photo showing the whole bird, sometimes we can’t be sure. For instance, the photo below is of one of my Black Copper Marans hens. But if I didn’t know that, it might be difficult to guess. In real life, her hackles are a beautiful coppery color. That’s not readily apparent in the photo. Also, her legs are feathered, although rather sparsely. You can’t see that in the photo, either. Her legs are dark in color… but if I didn’t know, I would have to wonder if her legs looked dark in the photo simply because she was slightly in silhouette, with the light behind her,  or if it was an accurate reflection of the color of her legs.

Chicken breed identification - better photo

I prefer to maintain a little mystery about me in this photo.

In other words, it would be possible to guess, just judging from this photo, that this hen  could be an Australorp, too… but we would be wrong

Additionally, there are sometimes other rarer breeds that might fit the description you’ve given, but which are less common. For instance, Black Orpingtons wouldn’t have been eliminated by any of the tests above. However, since black is a relatively rare plumage color for an Orpington in this country, it’s not a guess we would consider likely.

Finally, all our guesses may be for naught; you could have a mixed breed chicken. Unless you want to have DNA testing done, no guess will be absolute!

Do you have any chickens you need help identifying? You can ask about them below in the comments–be sure to give every detail! If you have any pictures, you can post them to our Facebook page and ask about them there.

 

 

 

 

9 Comments
Tierney Clark January 11th, 2013

I don’t have a breed question, but i was wondering if I was right in assuming my Rhode Island Red was actually a roo.
He’s quite bigger than his sister, has a much redder comb, which is bigger also. He has that shiny black blue look to some of his feathers, where the other one doesn’t, and his tail is beginning to get long and curled, with those shiny blue black feathers too. But the thing that almost convinces me, is the little knobs on the back of each leg right about where a spur should be. I’m guessing they are growing in?
He doesn’t crow yet but he is louder and deeper sounding than his sister too.
Think I might have a roo? I’m thinking so hahah…

Lissa January 11th, 2013

The easiest way to tell if your bird is a rooster is to look at the shape of the saddle feathers. Read more here in the Help pages of our website.

John May 21st, 2013

Hey, where did my comment go?

Emily May 23rd, 2013

My husband came home from a poultry auction a couple of months ago with a box of chicks…. had no idea what they were, just “thought they looked cool” hahah. Well they are pretty big now, and 4 of them are clearly cochins, but there are two I am having trouble identifying. They are brown and speckled with a lighter band of buff or slightly gold feathering around the necks. one has a darker brown head like the body color, the others in light like the neck. They have grey legs and beak and small combs. they are very compact/round chickens, with very small tails… at least so far. They were very dark… nearly black as chicks. They have no feathering on their feet, and their feathers are very smooth and sleek like a brown leghorns. Any ideas? I have looked at partridge rocks and welsummers, and they don’t quite fit.

Lissa May 24th, 2013

You can either post photos to our Facebook page, or send an email with photos to info@mypetchicken.com, and we’ll be happy to try to help you identify your birds. :)

Nancy Wood June 28th, 2014

hopefully this will be an easy one for you. we bred a cuckoo marans rooster with a cuckoo marans hen. she hatched three of the eggs. now they are almost grown. two appear to be hens and one is definitely a male.. the male looks like a cuckoo marans but the females are black with shiny black feet. This is a mystery to me. how can two pure bred cuckoo marans hatch pure black babies with black feet?

Lissa July 2nd, 2014

Cuckoo (and barred) hens tend to be darker than males. Possibly you’re just not seeing the barring, yet. Or possibly you had some other sort of rooster sneak in to your Marans pen (or a hen sneak out for a bit!). It’s difficult to guess what may have happened, not knowing details. When they begin laying, the color of the eggs may give you a clue.

Aly November 20th, 2014

Hi!! I got some mixed breed hens yesterday and was wondering if you could help with figuring out what they might be. One of the hens, which I named Zoe, is quite small, she has white feathers with just a couple of tiny black speckles. She has a single comb and willow green legs with yellow feet on the underside. She has a small tuft or crest (I’m not sure the difference) on her head which looks kind of like a little tiny bun. The tuft is also white with a few black feathers. She has kind of a small narrow body and a slender neck. Any help or guesses would be appreciated!!! Thanks!! :)

Lissa November 20th, 2014

You’re saying you got mixed breed hens? If Zoe is a mixed breed chicken (a mutt), there’s no easy way to tell which breeds she has in her background. We like mutts for sure, but there’s not a good way to tell what breeds went into her make-up. Did you mean you got a mix of different chicken breeds? If so, you might start by finding out what breeds your supplier has available, which would narrow it down considerably. Willow legs are relatively unusual; most breeds have pink/white or yellow legs, so–if you do have a mix of breeds rather than a group of mixed breeds–finding out if your supplier carries a crested, willow legged chicken. Tufts come out of the side of the head, while crests are on top.

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