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Q: How can I tell if my juvenile bird is a rooster?
A: Comb size and redness can be one indicator, but is not usually reliable. In fact, it's one of the worst indicators you can use, as comb size varies by breed and even individual. For instance, one of my hens has a larger comb than any of her sisters of the same breed, and a larger comb than any of my roosters, too.

When sexing most juveniles, the best, most fail-safe method is to look at the saddle feathers in front of the tail when the bird is about 3 months old. By that age, cockerels will have long and pointy saddle feathers, while a hen's will be rounded. This will indicate for sure whether you have a cockerel or a pullet in every breed but Silkies and Sebrights. You will also be able to see long, curving sickle feathers in the tail of the rooster as he gets a little older.

Crowing is a fairly good indicator, but isn't fail-safe, either. Plus, generally speaking, you will be able to tell by feathers much earlier since roosters don't usually begin to crow until they are 4 or 5 months old. However, we have had roosters wait until a little later, and begin a little sooner, too. Plus, hens will occasionally crow, so even crowing doesn't tell you for sure. To reiterate, the BEST way to tell for sure is by looking at physical characteristics that cannot be mistaken, so check feather shape when your birds are about 3 months old, as other indications are not reliable.

For sebrights, the cockerels are "hen-feathered," meaning the males have the same shape feathers as females. For sebrights, comb size and wattle size are about the only easy way to tell. (Campines are hen feathered in other countries, but not usually so in the US.)

Sexing juvenile silkies is complicated, because you can't easily see the shape of the feathers, the comb is often hidden under the crest, and wattles are not evident in most bearded silkies. Our experts vent sex (with 90% accuracy) when the babies are a day old, but for the rest of us--and even for silkie breeders--juvenile silkies are especially hard to sex. However, there are a few telltale signs that may help you discern what you have:

  • Generally the puffy crests on the hens' heads are rounder, while the roosters may have long streamers coming from theirs.
  • Sometimes males will have slightly shinier feathers.
  • If they are non-bearded Silkies, the wattles will be larger in males. (Bearded Silkies of both sexes are lacking substantial wattles.)
  • In both types of silkies, the males' comb will be larger. (A silkie's comb is called a "walnut" comb for its shape. Instead of being red like most chicken combs, it is usually a color described as "mulberry.")
  • Roosters will generally be bolder in their behavior, and often friendlier to humans when they are young. (Hens generally "catch up" in the friendliness category after they begin laying, while roosters usually get more stand-offish as they get older.)
  • If you have more than one rooster, they may "chest bump" and assert themselves with each other. However, hens will do this, too--just not as often.
  • If you have mixed hens and roosters, the roosters usually begin to grow larger more quickly than the hens, so hens may be slightly smaller after a few weeks
Please read the related questions below for further information about sexing chickens. And remember, if you do get an unexpected rooster and you're worried about the crowing bothering your neighbors, consider the no-crow rooster collar.