When we first got our chickens, we raised them from eggs. 

Of course, we didn’t know what we got when it came to gender, so as the chicks were born and got older, we wanted to know. 

This led us to look into how to tell the difference between a hen and a rooster. 

Or, more specifically, a hen and a rooster. 

Roosters are male chickens, while hens are female chickens. Roosters don’t lay eggs, have more aggressive behavior and calls, shorter wing feathers and longer tail feathers, and larger and brighter combs and wattles. There are ways to tell gender apart, even as chicks, though it’s more difficult. 

Look ahead for more details on these differences, including pictures and breakdowns to differentiate between the two. 

difference between hens and roosters

Difference Between Chicken And Roost Chart

Use this chart as a quick way to tell the difference between a hen and a rooster. 

Eggs?Lays eggsDoesn’t lay eggs
Combs/WattlesSmaller and more mild colorLarge and bright
FeathersLonger wing feathers, wider neck or hackle feathersLonger and more vibrant tail feathers, has saddle feathers
BehaviorMild, curious, but runs awayAggressive when seeing new things, usually louder and calls more
LegsLean juicy legsThicker legs, prominent spurs

Chicken, Hen, And Rooster Term Differences

Many folks confuse the terms around chickens, making it hard to determine what differences you’re looking for. 

So here’s a quick breakdown of what each chicken term refers to: 

  • Chicken – The species of bird we’re talking about. 
  • Hen – Adult female chickens (at least over one-year-old)
  • Rooster – Adult male chickens (at least over one-year-old)
  • Pullet – Female chickens under one year old
  • Cockerel – Male rooster under one-year-old
  • Chicks – Baby chickens between 0-16 weeks of age
  • Capon – A castrated or neutered male chicken

For the rest of this article, we’ll focus on the differences between male and female chickens at the hen/rooster stage and the pullet/cockerel stage.  

Key Differences Between Chickens (Hens) And Roosters

Though we touched on these differences a little in the chart above, let’s look at them in more detail in this section. 

Egg Laying (Duh)

Yes, a hen will lay eggs while a rooster won’t. 

It’s obvious, but some people need to hear it. 

This is a sure-fire way to determine gender, but it isn’t useful in the early stages of life. 

Hens won’t lay eggs until around 18 weeks or 6 months old with any reliable consistency. 

If you’re looking at telling the difference between chickens, hens, and roosters before adulthood, take a look at some of these other traits. 

Combs And Wattles

Combs and wattles are on both genders of chickens. 

These fleshy, red flaps of skin help regulate the chicken’s body temperature and are critical in keeping the chicken cool during the summer months. 

The comb is the red crest on top of the chicken’s head, and the wattle is the neck skin hanging under their beak. 

Both of these show up on hens and roosters as they reach sexual maturity and reach their most vibrant between one to two years of age. 

However, cockerels (young males) will get them earlier than pullets (young females), and when they do show, they’ll be brighter and bigger on roosters than hens. 

Feather Type And Length

Feathers are one of the earliest indicators of gender and one of the clearest ways to tell them apart if you know what to look for. 

There are different types of feathers, and the shape of those will help determine if your chick or chicken is a hen or a rooster. 

Before we get into all of that, let’s talk about chick feathers. 

When you look at the feathers on chicks, there are some slight differences to note. 

The wing feathers of a female chick will be longer in direct comparison to a male chick. 

Looking at the tail feathers, though, will show longer feathers on a male chick. 

For those who’ve worked with chicks a long time, it’s clear to them male and female from only a few weeks old. 

But for those without as much experience, this test is a little subjective. 

It’s better to make this call with an expert to double-check your thoughts. 

This is where I’m still at with chicks, personally. I’ve been pretty accurate in telling gender, but I do check with our more experience chicken-raising neighbor. 

For pullets/cockerels and older, the feather difference is clearer and includes the following. 

Type of FeatherDescriptionOn MalesOn Females
HacklesNeck feathersLong and pointedShort and round
TailFeathers on tailLong and more colofulShort
SaddleAlso called back feathers (where you’d wear a horse’s saddle)Long, thick, and pointedShort, round

These feathers will show up clearly when the chickens reach 3-4 months of age, when most experts say you can tell the difference between the two genders. 

Behavior, Especially When Seeing New Things

While not every rooster will act the same way, there are specific trends in behavior we can look at to help us tell differentiate between chickens and roosters (or rather, hens and roosters). 

For one, roosters are much more active than hens and physically stronger. 

They rush to get into everything and run around to check out the flock or brood. 

Hens, on the other hand, are more curious than active. Some call them timid, but I’ve always thought of them as simply cautious. 

They tend to hesitate and consider compared to the assertive rooster, which tends to charge in. 

Socially, roosters are more bossy and pushy with other chickens, even from a young age. 

Chickens have a pecking order, and roosters want to be on the top. 

As they get older, roosters will challenge each other more often by raising their hackle feathers and attacking each other. 

Of course, there’s the whole crowing thing for roosters too. 

Male chickens are more chatty than hens, especially when it comes to normal communication. 

When something shows up that’s a potential threat, males and females react differently. 

Hens will engage in nervous calling to the rest of the brood and back away. 

Roosters will call as well, but they’ll charge forward more. 

However, just like humans, chickens each have their personalities, so while these traits are common among gender, it isn’t a guarantee. 

I have truly cranky and bossy hens who act as the matriarch, even to the point of giving her rooster a what-for on occasion. 

And I’ve also seen more mild roosters who are more interested in chilling than asserting their dominance. 

Leg Thickness And Spurs

Leg size is another way to tell chickens apart, but the size itself is another subjective quality, and inexperienced chicken farmers may have a hard time using this quality. 

Cockerels and roosters have thicker, more muscular legs than pullets and hens. 

This is to better: 

  • Protect the flock
  • Get around the run quicker
  • Challenge other roosters
  • Mate with the hens

Some rooster breeds evolved to grow spurs on their legs above their toes. 

This is a rooster-specific feature. 

Often, these are fairly short, only a third of an inch at six months of age and 1″ inch at adulthood. 

The spurs are another feature of defense, and they can cause serious puncturing injury, especially in submissive roosters. 

Many farmers remove them safely to prevent death in the brood. 

How To Tell A Rooster From A Hen At 4 Weeks? 6 Weeks?

tell male and female chickens apart as chicks

Many folks want to tell the difference between chicks at an early age, but the truth is that this is difficult. 

The average person’s best option when getting a straight run of chicks is to look at the feathers. 

A straight run is when you get chicks from farmers with no indication of the gender of the chicks, usually because they’re too young. 

This method is often cheaper than buying from chicken breeders, who will do more (at a higher price) to ensure you have all females or the mixture you want).

Females have longer wing feathers while males have longer tail feathers. 

This quality isn’t always clear, although it will start to show up at 4 and 6 weeks of age. 

Some breeds of chickens are called auto-sexing breeds. 

In these, the differences in coloration and feathers are so clear between the genders it’s pretty much an instant classification. 

Examples of auto-sex breeds include Rhode Island Reds and New Hampshire chickens. 

Egg Gendering

One interesting way to tell gender is through egg gendering. 

If you have the eggs on hand (whether bought from a farmer or raised in your own backyard), 

If you look at the shape of the egg, there is a slight difference between genders. 

Sharp, pointed tips are more likely to be roosters, and rounder-tipped eggs are more likely to be hens. 

Interestingly, this shape trend follows regardless of color or breed of chicken. 

This is the biggest used indicator for farmers. 

If they’re breeding hens and don’t want roosters, they’ll go through the eggs and sort them out by shape, disposing of the male eggs. 

It’s not a foolproof method, but it’s good enough to help develop the flock you want.

Vent Sexing

Vent sexing is an unusual but highly accurate method of sexing chickens developed in Japan in the 1920s. 

Some people also refer to it as the Japanese sexing method for this reason. 

It requires a lot of training and testing before someone can do it. 

Why? Doing this incorrectly can kill the chicks. 

For this reason, I don’t want to go into too many details on it. 

People shouldn’t attempt this at all unless they’ve been trained. 

Essentially, you squeeze the feces out of the chick and check their vent or cloaca. 

If you’ve done it correctly, you’ll lumps and sex organs, telling gender from an early age. 

Again, don’t do this if you’re not trained. It’s just cruel to your chicks. 

Be patient and wait until the 4-6 week mark and use the feathering method. 

It’s less accurate, but it’s safer. 

What Age Is Best For Telling A Chicken From A Rooster?

The best age for telling sex (without vent sexing) is to wait until 4-6 months of age. 

It’s here hens will start to lay eggs, and the physical appearance differences become quite clear. 

Chicken Vs. Rooster Pictures

rooster and hen differences picture rhode island red
silkie chicken rooster vs hen

Commonly Asked Questions

Are All Male Chickens Roosters?

Not all male chickens are roosters, and this largely goes back to what the term “rooster” means. 

Roosters are defined as adult male chickens at one year of age or older. 

Under this one year, we refer to the male chickens as cockerels. 

There are also capons, which are fixed/neutered/castrated adult male chickens. 

Capons become something of a hen/rooster hybrid in terms of meat and are a delicacy in some dishes, especially French ones like Coq au Vin. 

What’s The Difference Between Hens And Chickens?

All hens are chickens, but not all chickens are hens. 

Chickens are the bird species we talk about. 

Hens are specifically adult female chickens at one year of age or higher. 

The young version of hens is called pullets. 

Pullets are female chickens under one year of age. 

Why Do We Not Eat Male Chickens?

Roosters aren’t usually a bird we eat in America, though it’s more common in other parts of the world. 

Roosters tend to have leaner and tougher meat than the robust hen. 

There’s nothing wrong at all with eating male chickens; it just takes longer to cook them well (often on a lower heat). 

The real reason roosters don’t end up on the menu in America is that they’re difficult to raise. 

Roosters fight each all the time, so to keep them, they’d need to be separated. 

The extra space isn’t needed for chickens, making it easier and cheaper to simply cull the male eggs and chicks and raise the females.