When A Hen Starts To Crow, Gender Reversal In Chickens: Who Knew?

Posted on Posted in Backyard Chickens
silkie chicken and small child
Our youngest child and the Silkie chicken.

UPDATE 7/23/14: See bottom of this post for an update…

Just a quick post on something that has blown my mind.  I didn’t grow up in the country and I don’t know much about livestock, chickens, etc.  Everything I have learned about chickens I have either learned from experience or researching on the internet.  Did you know that a hen (a girl chicken) can take on the traits of a rooster (a male chicken) in various situations?

Why am I writing about this?  Why was I researching this?  Yesterday morning I was going out to the truck at about 6:45am to head to the office and heard the crow of a chicken.  It was a garbled, gravely kind of of crow.  It sounded like it was coming from my neighbor’s house but I knew they didn’t have chickens.  As I walked back to the coop, what I heard and saw blew my mind.  Zsa Zsa our prissy hen was crowing.  I stood there for a while but she….err I mean he…err possibly it…wouldn’t do it again.  Later in the day I caught this….

[weaver_youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P1swRJdEtH0 sd=0 percent=100 ratio=.5625 center=1 rel=0 https=0 privacy=0 see_help_for_others]

Here’s where it gets interesting.  I turned to some of the various chicken guides that I use online and Zsa Zsa doesn’t have any of the signs of being a Silkie rooster.  There are a few minor differences between a rooster and a hen in Silkies, with most of the differences having been bred out of them.  I couldn’t locate any of the physical traits of a rooster on Zsa Zsa.

Why jump to the hypothesis of gender reversal?  Zsa Zsa is a year old.  It would be rare to have a rooster wait till they are a year old to start crowing and exhibiting other signs of being a male.  The crow itself is a bit telling.  It wasn’t the true crow of a rooster.  It was little like that of a juvenile rooster.  There of course is the idea that Zsa Zsa has been laying eggs too.

The egg thing is actually what I will be watching as a clear sign of what I am dealing with.  We bought Zsa Zsa after four of our other chickens had been killed by a neighbor’s carelessness.  Our lone survivor didn’t start laying again for a long time.  In the mean time a new color and shape of egg started showing up.  Oreo had always laid a tan color egg and these new eggs were narrower and cream in color.  So the two possibilities are that Zsa Zsa is a crowing, egg laying hen or that I have been mistaken all this time and Oreo is actually laying two different color eggs, which is also possible.

The chicken cam is in the roost box waiting to watch a chicken lay an egg.  Either Oreo will pop out two different eggs or Zsa Zsa will plop out an egg and then start crowing. You can watch for yourself at the end of this post.

Why do some hens take on traits of a rooster?  Chickens, like many animals, can be very territorial.  When their territory is threatened they can adapt and take on new traits.  It is interesting to note that I had our new chicks out in the same area as the chickens on Sunday.  This new trait appears on Wednesday.  Could Zsa Zsa feel threatened by the addition of the new birds to the pecking order?  Only time will tell.

There are any number of threads, comments, posts and documents about hens crowing that you can find on the internet.  It is apparently not that unusual.  Last night I mentioned this to a friend who lives in the country and he said, “Oh yeah, that happens all the time.”  One of the better reads I have found, complete with reference material is this one – When A Hen Crows.

So, all that said, join along and watch to see what happens over the next few days…

See what my chickens are up to on my other site – www.LiveChickenCam.com

UPDATE: This post is generating a TON of traffic so I thought I would update it with the latest info.  Our silkie chicken turned out to be a rooster.  Over the years Silkies have had most of their gender differences bred out of them.  They are among the most difficult chickens to sex.  After watching camera footage I discovered that our other chicken was laying eggs.  Zsa Zsa was indeed a boy.  We are not allowed to have roosters so we made arrangements with our breeder to take Zsa Zsa back to the farm.  They were happy to have her…I mean him.  The chicken experts were able to peek in the vent and determine for sure he was a rooster.  Gender reversal in chickens is not unheard of but it is VERY rare.  If you have a crowing chicken it is most likely a rooster.

18 thoughts on “When A Hen Starts To Crow, Gender Reversal In Chickens: Who Knew?

  1. Amazing! Never heard of this, but evidently it’s not unusual from the comments in the link you gave. The video made me laugh! It was like she was saying, “Hey, look what I can do!”

    1. It is funny to hear Zsa Zsa crow, but it is kind of unnerving at the same time. I learn something everyday…Dad is learning 🙂

  2. See an egg, but no chicken on the cam @ the moment. Just thinking: If I was a chicken that dressed like Liberace, I’d possibly feel a bit threatened as well…especially if it turned out that I was a rooster dressed that way. Speaking of which, when are we going to see you walking among the chickens in your overalls w/ your straw hat. You’ve already got the beard down.

    1. Yeah, Oreo laid a tan egg. So the chicken that lays the cream color eggs is still at large. She took care of her business pretty quickly this morning. This might be wrong to say, but it is pretty entertaining watching a chicken lay an egg. I think it is funny when they puff up to about twice their normal size just before the egg drops out. No overalls at the house, I have been thinking about getting a pair though 🙂

  3. After watching the “crowing” video, don’t be surprised if your careless neighbors get “careless” w/ their BB gun. I think it would be a hoot but then I realize animals make noise and am not bothered by such…I laugh it off. Hopefully your neighbors will do likewise.

    1. I know I wouldn’t have any problems with my nearby neighbors. One set knows me pretty well and I talked with the other ones yesterday just to let them know what’s going on. If the troublesome people down the road can hear Zsa Zsa then I have bigger problems to worry about.

  4. My Father was a blackland farmer back in the 30’s and 40’s. My Monther raised chickens and other things. My Father’s favorite saying was as follows: A whisstling rooster and a crowing hen never come to no good end:
    Thought you might enjoy.

    1. Haha! That is great Alice! I am thinking there will not be a good end either way for Zsa Zsa. We can’t have a rooster in our city and I’m thinking a hen that crows isn’t the best idea either.

  5. OH LORD! I am a new chicken mom, have six six month olds. Today to my horror I heard crowing coming from the coop at 6:30! I went o check out who was doing it, I have a wynadotte I suspected of being a roo, and sure enough he comes out singing at the top of his lungs, as I am digesting this new development, my favorite black silkie comes out and starts crowing too!!! By now im freaking out! Then it happens….my white silkie I call Dixie chick starts crowing too! Im so depressed I ate five donuts today! LOL My friend told me about your post and you gave me a bit of hope I will not have to re home them… thanks!

  6. I woke up around six this morning went outside, heard an owl in the woods nearby and not a minute later I hear the crow of a rooster. We have 20 hens (age 11 months-six years) and no rooster. I heard it again five more times. Went to look in the hen house and it is the second oldest hen, a rhode island red who turned six in June! Today her behavior has definitely seemed more territorial as no one passed her in line to the water. Her wattle actually seems bigger and darker too. I am interested to see what happens with this and if it will go on forever…

  7. What’s even more stranger is that I have a very old hen (near 10 yrs of age) that recently started to crow. She still lays an egg every few days. But I now wonder, it’s either got to be her hormones are going or perhaps she has some kind of dementia or maybe Alzheimer’s and is forgetting who she is.

  8. I don’t see is as so black and white as the hen is changing to a rooster. Why can’t it just be a hen stepping up to protect her flock since there is not rooster present? Giving the impression that a male is present in the flock will deter predators. We have a hen that has started crowing occasionally and is still laying eggs.

  9. I have 5 red rock hens and two white Silkie hens. This morning I heard this funny crowing noise coming from the coop. I tried to see which one was crowing but I had no luck. Do Sikes actually crow?? If so what’s up with that? They are supposed to be all hens. Also I got them in Feb when do they usually start laying? Thanks in advance for answers and comments.

    1. I could definitely be wrong…but it is my understanding that there are still hens/roos for Silkies. A lot of the gender specific traits/identifiers have been bred out of them which makes them so tough to sex (identify gender). There are some breeds that can be sexed immediately based on various physical identifiers but Silkies are almost impossible which is why they are mostly sold as straight run from breeders. In regards to laying, typically 6-7 months with variation for some breeds. Expect to see eggs in July, August, or September. We have some Amerecaunas that were chicks in Feb and they haven’t started laying yet either. Thanks for your questions/comments.

  10. I could tell it was a boy from the crow. The silkie rooster we once had was a late crower and sounded awful when he started. If you’d like a nice sounding crow in your yard, don’t pick a silkie, hah. I was hoping to find more info about female crowing because some of our hens bred from a certain line (mother was a crower) are also starting to make lame attempts at crowing. They are definitely females as I have had them for two years now and I know they lay eggs. They sound more like some wild kind of jungle bird than a normal crow, but you can tell they are trying and they do it when the roosters are also out for their morning crowing time. 🙂

  11. Yes, I have a young type of bantam hen that just hatched late season chicks. We had to save one as we believe he was the last hatchling and couldn’t keep up w the others. Left her w 7. One morning we found her w only 3 and figured through nature some wild critter found her brood during the night and made a meal of 3. This past week another one met it’s demise by a dog. They are about 4 weeks old now and Mother hen has now started crowing. She does sound like a young rooster that is still trying to master the skill, but, she sounds pretty good. I have 2 roosters and they both have a different crow but I know them. I have been hearing a different crow and was wondering what was going on. I witnessed her doing it so mystery solved!

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