Incubation and Embryology - University of Illinois

Chicken Feathers

Feathers act as a protective covering for fowl, protecting it from cold, rain, sun and injury. It is important for the feathers to be relatively broad, with a web of good firm texture, a strong shaft, the barbs, barbules, and barbicels closely and tightly knitted together. This is the desired feather type for most breeds. There are some exceptions, however.

Feather patterns and color serve as a valuable aid in identifying numerous varieties of fowl. This is used in conjunction with skin and leg color, body shapes, combs, and beaks.

The descriptions for the various colors and color patterns are described in the following paragraphs.

The plumage for a fowl is classified as "white" is white in all sections. While the surface of a fowl classified as "black" is a lustrous, greenish black with an undercolor, except where otherwise specified dull black in dark-legged varieties and slate in yellow-legged varieties. Fowl that are "buff" are a medium shade of orange-yellow color with a rich golden cast, but not so intense as to show a reddish cast, nor so pale as to appear lemon or light yellow.

Feather colors help to differentiate between males and females in most fowl.

Barring is the alternate transverse markings of two distinct colors on a feather. It may be regular or irregular depending on the breed.

Frizzle feather is a term used to identify feathers that curl and curve outward and forward.

The laced feathers have a border of contrasting color around the entire web of a feather.

Mottled feathers have a variable percentage of black feathers that are tipped with white.

Penciling applies to several types of lines or marking on female feathers, the crosswise bars on feathers, the narrow concentric linear marking inside the edge on the web of the feathers. This should be characteristically narrow, uniform in width, sharply defined and continue in an unbroken line following the contour of the feather. When multiple, they should be equidistant from each other, conform to the contour of the feather. Each feather in the back, breast, body, wing bows and thighs should have three or more pencilings. The penciled variety male is more colorful that the female.

Peppered feathers are sprinkled with small dots of black or gray and are a defect.

The Spangled feather has a distinct marking of contrasting color at the extremity of a feather, proximally shaped like a well defined 'V' with a rounded end in some varieties and curved sides or pear-shaped in other varieties. Others are half-moon shaped. The spangle always are black in color and are found in combination with silver or gold ground color or white in color and separated from bay or brown ground color by a black bar. Spangling can be diagonal elongated black marking on the web.

Splashed feathers are ones that have irregular splashes of contrasting color. This occurs in spangled and mottled varieties.

Blue fowl are actually a bluish slate color. Genetically they are black fowl in which the black pigment granules are modified in shape and distribution of the surface of the feather, creating a dilution of black and causing the characteristic bluish slate color. This is the hybrid expression of two hereditary color factors, black and a form of white (usually with some splashing), neither of which is dominant over the other, but which are blending in character. Blue-to-blue will produce off-spring one-half blue, the other half evenly divided in black and splashed whites; and blue to black, and blue to splashed will produce the parent types equally, while black to splashed will produce all blues.

Return to Resources