Chicken feather colors 101

Body colors, feather colors, patterns & more

 

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Want to be a poultry aficionado and impress your friends?  Knowing the basics about a bird’s coloring can help you do just that.  While genetics play an important role in feather coloring, it gets super confusing so we’ll just focus on the fun stuff here.

  • Pigments

     There are only two pigments that exist within poultry feather genetics: black and red.  Every recognized color variety is made up of these two pigments, whether they are enhanced, diluted, or masked.  These gene changes are manipulated by us humans through selective breeding.

  • Gender 

    Males always have brighter and more colorful plumage intended to attract a mate. Females typically have more understated and subtle colors to camouflage them while sitting on a nest of eggs.

BODY COLORS

Here’s a gallery of the variety of feather colors that are out there. To learn how to better describe chickens and identify breeds based on color, you may also want to check out how to describe chicken feather colors, the anatomy of colors, and feather patterns.

Bay

A golden brown color.

Birchen

Main body and tail of the bird are solid black. The head, hackles on males and females, and the saddle on males have silvery white feathers with a narrow black stripe through the middle of each feather. The breast feathers are black with a narrow trim of silver.

Black

Solid black that often has a beetle-green luster.

Black-Breasted Red

This term describes a bird’s visual color but is not linked to its genetic makeup. Within the BBR color scheme there are slight variations between breeds. Roosters are colored drastically different from hens. Roosters have black body feathers and a black tail, with red hackles, back, shoulders, and parts of the wing. Hens have brown body feathers with yellow-orange hackles or black hackles laced in gold, a salmon breast, and black tail. They maintain the coloring of red jungle fowl, the original ancestor of modern day chickens.

Blue

This feather color is a dilution of black, and is generally applied to any bird with a slate grey appearance. Some breeds with blue varieties with black lacing, while others are leaden blue, lemon blue, or blue slate. Self blue the U.S. and lavender in the U.K. is characterized by a uniform, pale bluish grey color across all feathers.

Buff

This color describes an even shade of gold, orange-yellow. Several varieties are solid buff all over, while others have black accents in the tail, neck, or wings.

Chestnut

A dark red brown, darker than bay.

Cinnamon

A dark, reddish buff.

Columbian

This color pattern is a white with black pattern. Roosters have a white head, back, and thighs. The hackles are green-black laced with white lacing, and the main tail and sickles are solid black. Hens have white bodies with black necks laced in white, and some black tail feathers.

Crele

A blend of cuckoo barring with Black-Breasted Red, resulting in a cuckoo feathers bird with yellow, orange, and red accents. Roosters will have these accents in hackles, shoulders, and saddles, and hens will only have accents in the hackles.

Duckwing

Characterized by a distinct bar of contrasting color across the wing of the male.

Fawn

Light brown or tan.

Golden Laced

This color pattern is characterized by red/gold and black. Roosters have a red head, hackle, back, and saddle feathers. Fluff is black and the tail is a lustrous greenish black. The wing bow and breast is red/gold with uniform black lacing on each feather. The hen’s head is red/gold. Hackle feathers are black laced with red. Body feathers are red/gold with uniform black lacing.

Mille Fleur

Feathers that are mahogany colored, with each tip having a crescent-shaped black bar followed by a V-shaped white spangle.

Mulberry

Dark skin that appears purple and is found on the combs, wattles, and face of select breeds.

Partridge

This body color is very similar to Black-Breasted Red. Roosters look so similar, they can easily be described as one or the other. The notable differences are within the hen’s feather pattern. Hackle feathers are black in the center with a thin border of reddish bay. The overall body color is the same reddish bay with beautiful black pencilings. Each feather should have three black pencilings. The main tail is black except for the top two feathers, which follow the same pattern as the body. This intricate pattern is very visually striking.

Red

A rich dark red or mahogany red. Roosters have glossy red necks, backs, and saddle feathers, with a greenish black tail and breast. Hens have tones varying from gold, to salmon, to brown, to black.

Red Pyle

A color pattern seen in Modern and Old English Games. Roosters overall have white bodies, with red/orange hackles, saddle feathers, and wing bows. Hens are white or salmon with golden heads.

Salmon

Reddish or pinkish buff like the color of cooked salmon. This color is used to describe the breast of Black-Breasted Red females. In the Salmon variety of body color, hens have a white breast and fluff and the rest of the body is a salmon color. Roosters are more diverse in color.

Silver

A color pattern characterized by a silvery white. Roosters have varying shades of white, black, and greenish black feathers. Hens have a salmon breast, grey body, and white hackles with a black center stripe.

Silver Laced

This color pattern is characterized by silver and black. Roosters have a silver head, hackle, back, and saddle feathers are silver with a black center strip. Fluff is black, and the tail is a lustrous greenish black. The wing bow and breast is silver with uniform black lacing on each feather. The hen’s head is silver. Hackle feathers are black laced with silver. Body feathers are silver with black lacing.

Silver Penciled

This color pattern is characterized by silver and black. Roosters have a silver head, hackle, back, and saddle feathers are silver with a black center strip. Breast and fluff are black and the tail is a lustrous greenish black. Hens have a pattern similar to Partridge, however in silver rather than reddish bay. The head is silver, the hackle feathers are black laced with silver, and the body feathers are silver with three black pencilings, giving the overall appearance of a steel grey.

Wheaten

The color of yellow wheat. Hens are majority wheat colored with darker neck and tail. Roosters have more variety in their coloring but are typically a more orange version of Black-Breasted Red.

White

White feathers are caused by a lack of pigment. Both hens and roosters are all white, all over the body.

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HOW TO DESCRIBE CHICKEN FEATHER COLORS

BRASSINESS

Yellow discoloration of feathers, usually on the back and wing.

DUSKY

Yellow pigments shaded with black, giving a mousey brown appearance.

LUSTER

How light interacts with the surface of a feather, adding dimension to the color.

PEPPERING

Feathers dotted with small but irregular spots.

RUST

The reddish brown shading on the outside of the wings in Black-Breasted Reds.

SELF-COLOR

A uniform color, unmixed with any other color.

SHAFTY

A dark-colored feather having a light shaft.

TICKING

Plumage that has spots of a different color than the rest of the body. Also known as stippling.

TIPPING

The ends of feathers are marked with a different color.

WING BAR

A distinct mark on the top of a birds wing caused by contrasting colors on the tips of the primary and secondary coverts

HARD FEATHERED

A bird with feathers that lay close to the body, giving a sleek appearance.

SOFT FEATHERED

A bird with feathers that fluff away from the body, giving a fuller appearance.

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ANATOMY OF COLORS

Ground Color

The main color of body plumage; base color.

Top Color

The color of the plumage on the back.

Under Color

The color of the fluff of the feathers, seen when main feathers are lifted.

Primaries

The feathers of the wing generally called the flight feathers.

Primary coverts

The feathers that cover the primaries on the wing.

Secondaries

The quill feathers of the wing which are visible when the wing is closed.

Shaft

The stem of quill part of the feather.

Sickles

The long, curved feathers of a male’s tail.

Tail coverts

The feathers that cover the main tail feathers of the rooster.

Wing bay

The triangular part of the folded wing.

Wing bow

The upper or shoulder part of the wing.

Wing butt

The end of the primaries; the corners or ends of the wing.

Wing coverts

The feathers covering the roosts of the secondary quills.

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FEATHER PATTERNS

Barring

Feathers with horizontal stripes (bars) of two colors. Bars can be of equal thickness or one color may be thicker than the other. Barred breeds are usually sex-linked, meaning male chicks and female chicks look distinctly different at hatching.

Cucko Barring

Irregular barring where the two colors are somewhat indistinct and run into each other. Considered a subtype of barred.

Double Laced

Two lacings of black. First there is the outer black lacing around the edge of the feather, plus the inner or second lacing.

Lacing

A stripe, edging, or trim all around a feather of contrasting color. Single laced feathering is extremely common in backyard breeds.

Mottled

Some feathers, but not all, have white tips on the ends. The white is actually a loss of pigment, and gives the bird and indistinct spotted look.

Open Barring

Where the bars on a feather are wide apart.

Open Lacing

Narrow outer lacing, which gives the feather a larger open center of ground color.

Penciling

Distinct thin lines that follow the contour of the feather. Each feather usually has multiple pencilings. They are especially beautiful and intricate in design.

Spangled

Similar to mottled feathers, but the loss of pigment occurs in the middle of the feather instead of the tip. The tip and base of the feather will be colored, while the middle is white.

Splashed

Feathers that have irregular “splashes” of contrasting color.

Striped

Feathers with a solid center and contrasting color running along the edge. Stripes occurs in hackle feathers and some saddle feathers.

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