Lady looks a little bit like a dude, but is probably still a lady

December 13, 2007 | By | Comments (20)

By Elizabeth Jardina, Sunset researcher

So, our feathers have been ruffled lately by a nagging fear that one of our pullets is a rooster.

That could be really, really bad news. If one of our shes is a he, we wouldn’t legally be able to keep him in our particular municipality (Menlo Park, California) because roosters crow. Loudly. Often at inappropriate times of day and night.

The chicken in question is Carmelita, who you may remember as the sturdier of our two Rhode Island Reds.

Carmelitaandhersuspectneckfeathers

I was describing her beautiful green-tinged feathers to our chicken guru, Jody Main, and Jody got really quiet.

Then, she said: "Uh-oh."

As it turns out, Rhode Island Red roosters have greenish feathers on their necks, and especially on their tails. Carmelita (above, note the neck) is developing dark feathers that flash green in sunlight.

Then Jody asked me if she was really shiny.

She is. She looks almost wet.

Apparently that too is a sign of a rooster.

It was time to consult the experts: the forums at BackyardChickens.com. They helpfully have an entire bulletin board called What Breed or Gender is This?

After an extensive perusal of photos of Rhodies at various stages of development, I think I’m prepared to say that I don’t think Carmelita is having a gender-identity crisis. At this point, Carmelita and our other Rhodie, Ruby, are 16 weeks old; they were born about Aug. 22. By this point, it seems like most Rhodie roosters start developing big red combs and pronounced wattles (those red things that hang down from their cheek/neck area.) Her comb is quite petite, and her wattles, while they exist, are not very prominent.

Now, it is possible for roosters to be late-bloomers. BackyardChicken.com users report "mute roos" not revealing themselves as the non-egg-laying sex until 22 weeks, but we’re hoping for the best with our suspiciously shiny Carmelita. And we’re on alert for stray cock-a-doodle-doos. (Right now both Carmelita and Ruby’s main vocalization has an uncanny resemblance to a creaky door. No real clucking yet, and certainly no crowing.)

Readers with chicken experience — you don’t think Carmelita is really Carl, do you? Reassuring comments would be appreciated. I’m not sure what we would do with her if she’s a him.

Speaking of our lovely flock, they’ve been braving our recent bout of relatively cold
weather with fluffy aplomb. We were a little bit worried about how
they’d weather our nighttime lows, which have been dipping into the
30s, but apparently our Bay Area weather just isn’t that cold for a
chicken.

It’s also about time that we properly introduce them to the world. How about some photos?
Ruby1fierce

Ruby, all grown up.


Quick facts

Name: Ruby
Breed: Rhode Island Red
Age: 16 weeks.
If she were a Spice Girl, she’d be: Ginger. Red-headed, sassy, secretly everyone’s favorite.

You may remember Ruby as our delicate runt, the chicken we were most worried about. Compared to the others, she was tiny! And she spent all of her first week of life nodding off under the heat lamp, then being startled back awake. Plus, she fell victim to the dreaded "pasty butt." (You think raising a chicken is easy??)

But oh, how our lovely lady has grown. Although she doesn’t cluck yet — again, the creaking door sound  — she’s blossomed into a healthy adolescent. (A pullet, technically. They’re not hens till they’re one year old.)

Honeyintree

Honey perches on a Mugho pine.

Quick facts
Name: Honey
Breed: Buff Orpington
Age: 17 weeks.
If she were a Spice Girl, she’d be: Sporty. Good natured, likes to jump in trees (or on your arm).

Honey is one of the flock leaders. She’s not shy at all — she’s the first to jump up and grab whatever offering you’re bringing. And she’s the one we used to let fly up on to our shoulders and laps. She doesn’t mind being picked up as much as the other ones, and likes to be stroked.

Alana1

Alana gives a mighty glare.

Quick facts

Name: Alana

Breed: Ameraucana

Age: 17 weeks.

If she were a Spice Girl, she’d be: Scary.

Although she used to be one of our most docile girls, willing to be cuddled and have her chest stroked until she was six weeks old, Alana has gotten quite suspicious of us these days. She will not consider being picked up, and she’s one of the last to cluster around you when you bring them food. Plus, that glare!

Charlotte2

Charlotte struts.

Quick facts

Name: Charlotte

Breed: Buff Orpington

Age: 17 weeks.

If she were a Spice Girl, she’d be: Baby Spice. Adorable, busty, sweet.

Charlotte  is slightly lighter in color and has rufflier feathers than her sister Honey. Both Orpingtons were actually named "Charlotte" for the first three weeks we had them because we couldn’t tell them apart. Our eagle-eyed art director Jim McCann was the first to notice that Honey was slightly darker, although we mere mortals — who work mostly with words, not photos — couldn’t tell the difference until weeks later.

Ophelia2

Ophelia … also gives a mighty glare.

Quick facts

Name: Ophelia (formerly, Kevin)

Breed: Ameraucana   

Age: 17 weeks.

If she were a Spice Girl, she’d be: Posh, I guess. I’m tempted to say Scary again because the Ameraucanas look so fierce, but I’ve kind of written myself into a corner with this Spice Girls thing.

Ophelia went from being one of our shyest chickens to one that — grudgingly — tolerates being picked up. She’s a flock leader too, always ready to take a bite of quackgrass when offered.

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  8. Crystal Gallant

    What was the verdict on Carmelita? I have a 14 week old RIR that is SUPPOSED to be a Male..and I’m not sure he is. no wattles or crown.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:11 pm
  9. Margo True

    Hi Kath–some hens can have roosterish personalities, we’ve found. I haven’t heard anything about the correlation with green-tipped feathers, though!

    March 30, 2011 at 4:52 am
  10. Kath Rushworth (NZ)

    My best broody hen has green tipped feathers like this. I wonder if being slightly boy-ish is the reason she guards her offspring so aggressively. I doubt it :)

    March 22, 2011 at 12:19 pm
  11. calli

    I am going through the same thing. 7 RIR chicks now about 12 weeks- 5 have dark red large combs and wattles and 2 do not. I was told all 7 were female at 1 day old. I hope I don’t have 5 roosters! Found this log looking for reassurance but think my she’s might be he’s?

    July 19, 2010 at 3:14 am
  12. blake

    I love, love, love these photos and descriptions! please keep updating us on these lovely ladies! (so far at least!)

    January 8, 2008 at 9:15 pm
  13. Shirley S.

    It is good that you have a cover of some sort over your chicken area, as crows love to eat hen eggs, and I am sure there are other larger birds that would as well, the attitude of the chickens may be that those are smarter and have gotten the idea that you will take their eggs. In Missouri we had to watch out for black snames in the nests as they eat eggs too, good you have a rear opening. Carmaleta, Alana, & Ophelia do have a rooster attitutude and longer neck, but they are probably hens. There are pictures of Ameruacana rooster and hen on Ebay as they have hatching eggs for sale. I am surprised you did not hatch yours. That is fun.

    January 7, 2008 at 2:29 pm
  14. Scot Campbell

    Your birds look great! I have a flock of 30 or so, Chickens, Turkeys and Peafowl in Danville. My flock includes plenty of cocks because I have >= 1 arce. I don’t mind their crows at anytime of the day. It reminds me that I’m still alive!

    December 21, 2007 at 6:28 am
  15. deirdre

    You probably do need a few more weeks to know for sure, but from the photo it looks to me like you’re pretty safe! We acquired an accidental rooster ourselves this past spring – before the crowing you might notice aggressive behavior toward you or the other hens. Good luck!

    December 19, 2007 at 2:43 pm
  16. deirdre

    You probably do need a few more weeks to know for sure, but from the photo it looks to me like you’re pretty safe! We acquired an accidental rooster ourselves this past spring – before the crowing you might notice aggressive behavior toward you or the other hens. Good luck!

    December 19, 2007 at 2:40 pm
  17. Trina

    Your blog cracks me up.

    December 18, 2007 at 11:46 pm
  18. Lara Cartwright

    You may need another 3-4 weeks to know for sure. One of our silver laced wyandottes – Evelyn – did not prove herself to actually be Elvin until about 5 months old.
    Something else to consider: perhaps she is just a bit “masculine”. We have a hen, Violet, who likes to – how shall I put this delicately? – “ride” on the backs of the other hens. She rarely lays eggs, and has other rooster traits despite the fact she is physically a hen: she is outside the pecking order, and she calls to the other hens when she finds something good to eat that she wants to share with them, just like a rooster does with his harem.

    December 18, 2007 at 5:49 pm
  19. Sara

    I’d say your Carmelita is a female too. She looks just like my RIR, Ginger, who at 21 weeks is just starting to grow her comb and wattle.

    December 16, 2007 at 6:34 pm
  20. karen anne

    Being from Rhode Island, where the RI Red is our state bird, I actually know nothing about RI Reds. But I asked on a Providence Journal blog, maybe someone will see the posting and chime in here.

    In looking at
    http://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com/product/rhode_island_reds.html
    it looks like an adult female has some shiny feathers also, just not nearly as many as the male. From that photo, I think Carmelita is female.

    p.s. Wiki says if the temperature in their coop drops below freezing, the tips of their combs become susceptible to frostbite, and egg laying drops considerably.

    December 14, 2007 at 1:07 pm

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