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A Poultry Glossary

Some of the words we use with birds can be a bit confusing, especially for those just starting a backyard flock. Here are some of the terms you’ll hear often, and a few of the more unique ones as well.

Bantam – A smaller variety of poultry. Some chicken breeds are available in both a standard and bantam size, while others are only bantam. Bantam roosters were the type of birds most commonly used in cock-fighting and are known to have more aggressive (if less threatening) dispositions. Bantams are particularly popular as pets because of their size and wide variety of fancy color and feather patterns.

Beard – The most common term for the bunch of feathers under some chicken’s chins. Varieties that display beards include Americanas, Silkies, Favorelles, and d’Uccles. This unique feathering gives these breeds a very distinct appearance.

Broody – The term for a hen who is trying to hatch a clutch of eggs. A broody bird will not leave the nest, growling to protect her eggs if you try to move her. If you wish to hatch eggs, a broody hen is an excellent way to do so. Otherwise, we recommend breaking a chicken of this condition. You can read more about broody hens in an earlier post, here.

Broiler – Chicken breeds which are bred and raised for meat.

Candle – A way to determine if an egg which is being incubated is viable. Using a bright light behind the egg, you can see the details inside and verify if there is a chick growing.

Cape – The longer, narrow feathers between a chicken’s neck and back. These are often some of the most colorful feathers on a chicken.

Comb – The fleshy red skin on the top of a chicken’s head. Combs come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes depending on the breed of chicken, and are generally larger on roosters than on hens.

Down – The soft, fluffy “feathers” which all fowl hatch with. Down is replaced by first-molt feathers at about 4-6 weeks.

Dewlap – The fold of skin hanging under the beak of turkeys and certain varieties of geese, such as the Dewlap Toulouse.

Egg tooth – A hard white hook at the end of a chick’s beak, which the chick has used to break out of its shell when hatching. These tiny hooks are lost as the chicken grows.

Grit – An essential part of a bird’s diet, grit is any type of small organic matter such as oyster shells, small pebbles, or egg shells. Grit helps to grind feed fully in a bird’s stomach, something necessary for digestion as they have no teeth.

Molting – The annual process by which a bird loses its feathers and replumes itself. Molting can also happen in a distressed or sick bird, but is usually normal. Birds molt in late summer or early fall, and the process takes about 8 weeks. You can read more about molting in our post here.

Pasting – A common ailment in mail order chicks which can also occur in home hatched chicks and adult chickens. Fecal matter gets stuck on the bird’s vent, sealing it closed. Left untreated, this condition is fatal.

Pipping – The term for when a baby bird begins to crack through the egg in hatching.

Pullet – A female chicken under a year of age.

Roosting/Roost – The place where birds gather to rest and sleep at night. Birds of flight, like chickens, greatly prefer sleeping on a raised branch or a “roost” in a chicken coop such as an elevated pole or other perch. In the wild, this helps them avoid nighttime predators.

Saddle – The area and feathers at the end of a bird’s back, just before the tail.

Scales – The hard, overlapping plates on a chicken’s feet.

Straight Run – When ordering chicks, “straight run” refers to chicks that will arrive unsexed, a mix of both males and females.

Snood – The loose flap of skin that hangs over a turkey’s beak.

Vent – The rear opening in birds through which both excrement and eggs pass from the bird.

Wattles – The skin flaps under chicken’s beaks. These are usually larger in roosters than in hens.


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