OMG! It's a Roo! How to Tell if You Have a Hen or a Rooster

Are you wondering if you have a rooster in your flock? If so, you're not alone. As baby chicks start to grow up, it's not uncommon to wonder about the sex of your chickens even if you chose from the pullet brooder at the store or ordered pullets directly from the hatchery. Here's my personal story with getting an accidental rooster and how you can tell what you've got one (or three) in your flock.

Roopert as a young rooster.

Accidentally Getting a Rooster

It all started when we were buying chicks from the local feed store. I was picking out two Buff Orpingtons. I had already put one in the box. I picked up the next and its wing was covered in poop. The salesperson apologized for the poop and suggested I pick another chick. The poop didn't bother me and it didn't concern me with baby chick health, so I'm not sure why I did this, but I put the poopy one back and grabbed a nice big healthy chick. I even remarked to the salesperson, "Wow! This one's really big!" He agreed and I left the store happy with my choices.

A couple of weeks later, I started to get suspicious. Kate, as the chick was called, was bigger than her counterparts and she developed her comb and wattles fast. They were much larger than everyone else's and they were redder.

I began to wonder if I was a statistical "victim" of a chick sexing mistake.

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One morning, my husband and I were in the garage putting the chicks out for the day and we both froze in place as we heard a faint but distinct "cock-a-doodle-doo." We stood still and waited to see if it would happen again. Sure enough, my suspicions were confirmed. We had a Buff Orpington rooster!

A name change was definitely in order, so Kate became Roopert. He eventually fathered two more roosters and we've not been without a rooster in our flock since then.

Roopert as a fully-grown rooster.

How to Tell a Rooster from a Hen

The best way to tell if you have a rooster or a hen is by watching your bird's behavior and body development. However, these signs are not 100% accurate.

  • Roosters will be larger than hens.
  • The combs and wattles on a rooster will be darker pink and they will grow faster and larger than a hen's combs and wattle. 
  • Roosters will be more bold and friendly early on while hens are less friendly. (This reverses with age.)
  • If you have more than one rooster, they may chest bump and challenge each other.
  • Hackle feathers (located on the neck) for roosters are longer, more pointed and narrow. A hen's hackle feathers are more rounded and oval-shaped. 
  • Roosters have long, skinny saddle feathers located where the back meets the tail. These start to develop around 12 weeks of age.
  • Roosters will start to crow around four months of age. 
  • Roosters will have thicker legs and may develop spurs early in their development.

The only way to be fully sure if you have a rooster is to see whether your bird eventually lays an egg or not. The reason for this is that rooster rules are made to be broken. Sometimes hens will have large combs and wattles. Sometimes they will crow. Hens can be extremely friendly. Hens will chest bump each other to establish the pecking order.

Two hens establishing a pecking order through chest-bumping and feather raising. 

How Did I Get a Rooster?

If you incubate eggs at home, you're almost guaranteed to get a rooster. Statistics say that 50% of a clutch will be roosters.

Hatcheries are usually about 90% accurate with their sexing and some like Meyer Hatchery, guarantee 100% accuracy. Because hatcheries like return customers, your best bet is to order directly.

The feed store is where I ran into problems. This is not to say that buying chicks from a feed store is bad, it's just wise to be cautious. Here's why. The feed stores get all their chicks shipped from the hatchery. They are taken out of their containers and put into the store brooders. Hopefully into the right brooders with the right signs. Then people, like me, shop those brooders. Chicks are picked up and inspected during the buying process. Some are put into boxes to take home, others are put back into the brooders. If you have brooder of Buff Orpington pullets next to a brooder of straight run Buff Orpingtons, it's easy enough to set a chick or two back into the wrong brooder. There are lots of places for unintentional error at the feed store.

Is There a Full-Proof Way to Know What I'm Getting?

Probably the best way to be guaranteed whether you're getting a hen or rooster is to buy sex-linked chickens. Sex-linked chickens are cross-bred, so at hatch, you can tell their sex by their coloring.


  1. I'm having fears that one of my new chicks might be a he instead of a she... Can't wait to read stories of your new roo!

    1. I can't wait to see how your story ends up! My first indication was his comb and wattle. They got big and red pretty quickly. But, I knew for sure once he started crowing. What breed of rooster will you have if your fears come true?

  2. I have my chickens ranging around my property. They are prolific and have produced 10 new chicks and looks like another hatch coming soon. How do I select hens and roosters to harvest when they are all relatively young? The major rooster is huge and kind of an icon but if advisable he can go into the pot as well. Do I concentrate on a certain hen to rooster ratio?

  3. I was googling buff orpington rooster when I came across your blog. We have 5 week old chicks and are thinking we may have a buff orpington roo as well. Then I noticed you're from Cincinnati. Did you happen to get them from Mt. healthy Hatchery

    1. Hi Nikki! That bunch came from Tractor Supply which got them from Mt. Healthy Hatchery. I got an earlier flock directly from Mt. Healthy Hatchery and they were all sexed properly.

  4. Same thing happened to me! Thought we had three hens so I named them Lucy, Ethel and Mrs. Kravitz. Well it wasn't long before Mrs. Kravitz turned into Lenny Kravitz and we officially now have a Roo who is beginning to attack my husband and teenagers. Makes me sad, but I'm going to have to find Lenny Kravitz a new home. :(

  5. Confused still, I have one that has red face and big and dominant.think it's a roo.

    1. Sometimes it can be confusing to tell the difference, especially with hybrid chickens like Easter Eggers. Hang in there. It took us almost a year to tell with one of our chickens.

  6. I have an 11 week old buff orpington named Cheerio and I am not sure whether it is a hen or a rooster. Her saddle feathers are stout and rounded, but her comb and wattles are much bigger than any of the other chickens' (though we do have multiple different breeds) The thing that stumps me is that she is so sweet and docile, and loves being pet and held. Is Cheerio a hen or a rooster???

    1. I would give Cheerio (great name!) a bit more time to mature. The comb and wattles aren't always good indicators. In both my Mottled Javas and Buff Brahmas, I have birds that are hens but have very different combs and wattles. I was just observing that with my Javas this week. Time will be the difference with Cheerio. Hopefully, she'll lay an egg for you and clear up the issue. That should happen around 16 to 18 weeks or even older. Hope this helps!

  7. I have 2 buff orpington hens so I thought. 1 has wattles and the other does not. Does that mean 1 is a rooster? I have a sex link and a barred rock that are the same age with the same size wattles. Could they all be roosters? Oh my!

    1. I've found comb and wattle differences within the same sex, breed and age chickens. I currently have three Java hens. Two have prominent combs, the other barely has a comb. I had the same thing happen with two Brahma hens. If you didn't know better, you'd think one was a rooster and one was a hen. The most accurate way to tell is when the hens start laying around 16 to 18 weeks or more of age. Hope this helps!


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