What is Fancy Feathering in Chickens?

Fancy Chickens Featured Image
Fancy feathering is a term used to describe non-typical, often exotic-looking plumage on a chicken. While some people will purchase chickens solely for egg or meat production, others are looking for show-quality and ornamental bird breeds. 

While these birds are eye-catching and interesting to look at, but still make great additions to a backyard chicken coop.

Fancy chicken breeds are often bred for a specific type of fancy feathering, including color, pattern, and placement of feathers. Fancy breeds of chicken are often more costly than other breeds, but to their doting owners, they are well worth the extra expense.

To understand fancy feathering, we will explore the different types of chicken feathers, discussing their purpose and placement, and then delve into the classification of fancy feather types, and the best-known chicken breeds that offer those characteristics.

What are Chicken Feathers Used For?

Feathers can only be found on birds in the animal kingdom. While they may enhance the features of birds and make them more attractive to look at, they play a vital role in many important processes throughout a bird’s life.

Some people have asked why chickens need feathers as they aren’t birds that you see flying often, but the fact remains that they do allow for flight, which can save a chicken‘s life from a predator.

Additionally, feathers help regulate a chicken’s body temperature, providing warmth during winter and shielding a chicken’s delicate skin from the sun during warmer months. Feathers are also used in attracting members of the opposite sex – particularly in roosters trying to gain the attention of a hen.

What Types of Feathers do Chickens Have?

Before we dive right into the types of fancy feathering, it’s important to note that there are four different types of main feathers that you can find on a chicken’s body, and depending on the type of fancy feathering you’re looking for, knowing the terminology of these feather types is helpful as they all serve different purposes for a chicken.

Down Feathers

Down Feathers are finely layered feathers that cover the bodies of baby chicks, and can also be found close to the body, hidden beneath exterior feathers in older chickens. Down is vital as it serves to help trap heat and keeps birds warm.

Coutour Feathers

Contour Feathers are the feathers you will see on the exterior of poultry, and cover the body, wings, and tail of a chicken. These are the feathers that help you identify a chicken’s breed and are the feathers you use to describe the shape and color of a bird. Every contour feather has tiny barbules that branch off the main shaft, and these fit together to create a smooth surface.

See Also:  What is a Lash Egg? Causes and Treatment

Contour feathers appear on different parts of the chicken, and are given a different name depending on their location:
Hackle feathers are fine and quite long, and they cover a chicken’s saddle and neck area.
Primaries are the feathers that grow out at the tip of each wing and are considered the outer flight feathers – these are typically the most dramatic type of contour feather appearance-wise.
Secondaries are set just behind the primaries and assist with a chicken’s flight. These are noticeable, but typically only when a bird opens its wings.
Some breeds of chicken will have barbs of different lengths and colors, which dramatically alter the appearance of a chicken.

As an example, one type of feather that doesn’t lay neatly against the body is a frizzle feather, which curls and grows outwardly, and gives off a unique, somewhat unkempt and fluffy appearance. We will discuss contour feathers in depth while describing types of fancy feathering.


Semiplumes are feathers that you find hiding between the contour feathers. The purpose for these feathers is to keep a chicken extra warm. They have a shaft, similar to contour feathers but have the appearance of down feathers, which is soft and fluffy.


Filoplumes are stiff feathers that are at the base of each contour feather. These feathers aren’t controlled by feather muscles but do have nerve endings that assist with keeping contour feathers in place.

What are the Types of Fancy Feathering Seen in Chickens?

Now that you know all about the types of feathers a chicken has, we can discuss the various types of fancy feathering, and the coloring and patterns you may encounter in fancy chickens.

There are many different types of feathering but here are the most common fancy feathering types:

  • Crestedness – Chickens will have a crown or pouf of feathers on the head, giving a dramatic appearance. These types of chickens look like they may be in need of a haircut.
  • Rumplessness – Chickens that have no tail feathers naturally. This does not refer to birds who have plucked their feathers out or are in the process of molting, where the feathers will grow back.
  • Tuftedness – This term refers to feathers that grow near a chicken’s ears from a chicken‘s peduncle, which is a small, fleshy nub that some chickens may have. Genetically speaking, tuftedness is a dominant trait and only one copy of this gene needs to be passed on for offspring to inherit and exhibit the trait. It is called a fatal gene because if a chick receives two such dominant genes from its parents, it typically will die in the egg before it hatches.
  • Beardedness – Birds that have this type of fancy feathering have adorable fluffy feathers that look like a beard. If the feathers extend and climb up the sides of the head they are referred to as muffs. There are many types of bearded breeds as this trait is single-gene controlled.
  • Feather-leggedness – This is perhaps the simplest type of fancy feathering as it simply means that these chickens have feathers on their legs.
  • Vulture hocks – When a chicken has very long and stiff feathers that grow from a chicken’s hock (their thigh area), they are said to have vulture hocks.
See Also:  Black Chicken Eggs: All You Need To Know

When referring to the appearance of a pattern or specific coloring on the feathers themselves, you may encounter several different types of terms used to describe specific characteristics. Here are the most common terms for a feather’s appearance and pattern:

  • Lacing – On the feather itself, there is a border of a different color right around the outer edge of the feather which may be narrow or broad.
  • Double-Lacing – The same as lacing but with a second ring inside the first.
  • Mottled – Random spots of two types of color seen throughout the plumage.
  • Spangling – The feathers are distinctively two-toned, with one color seen at the tip of the feather, and another color above.
  • Splash – Raindrop-shaped splashes of contrasting color, in a random pattern placement.
  • Penciling – Can be difficult to define as it is often breed-specific. It can appear like barring or fine lacing.
  • Peppered – The feathers look as if someone has ground fresh pepper on them – giving them the appearance of feathers coated in tiny specks of another color.

What Are Some of the Best Fancy Feathered Chicken Breeds?

This is highly subjective and a touchy subject for some, as everyone seems to have different tastes when it comes to fancy feathering. We will discuss several breeds of fancy chickens, and describe the type of feathering seen in each.

It is by no means an exhaustive list – there are many fancy feathered varieties because of hybrid breeding.


This British chicken is mostly a show-bird because of their ornate feathers, and stocky body. Once a dual-purpose breed, this bird became bred more for looks, so the egg and meat quantity suffered, and they became prized as an ornamental breed.

Orpington show birds

This bird comes in a wide range of colors, including black, white, buff, blue and splash, and also come in standard and bantam sizes. The bantams have more variety in color and feather patterns including black, blue laced, white, buff, red, buff black laced, barred, buff Columbian, and birchen.

Polish Chicken

One of the most dramatic-looking birds, Polish chickens come in bearded or un-bearded varieties and have an incredible crest of feathers that looks like a crown sitting on top of their heads. These birds tend to be show birds for this reason.

Polish Chicken show bird

They also come in standard or bantam. Their crown is so prodigious it even hides the comb of a rooster! Their crestedness can appear tidy and dignified or unkempt and wild. They are a showstopper and easily recognizable.

Serama Chicken

This bantam breed comes from Malaysia but they are not bred for color in their native country. Additionally, Serama Chicken feathers have to be a normal type and not long or flowing to be accepted.

See Also:  Are Chickens Mammals? 5 Easy Things to Check
Serama Chicken show bird

However, in America and Europe, this bird has been bred to have a variety of interesting characteristics and you can find frizzled, rumpless, silkied, and booted types. These birds are the smallest in the world, and quite popular because of their seemingly endless variety.

Silkie Chicken

The Silkie is a Chinese chicken breed and is one of the most unique in terms of appearance. They come in both bearded and un-bearded varieties. Silkies have a very soft, down-like look to them, and their feathers cover most of their body including their outer toes!

Silkie Chicken show bird

Owners say that silkies have feathers that feel like silk or satin. This is caused by the lack of barbicels, which also make their feathers look like hair. These birds often have crests to varying degrees.


The Araucana is a popular Chilean breed of chicken, moreso for their beautiful blue-colored eggs – but they also have a distinctive wild-game appearance and coloring. They are both Tufted and Rumpless.

Araucana show bird

Their tufted feathers resemble mutton chops on a human and form a semi-circle near their face. These birds may be difficult to find in many countries because the bird is still being developed. Currently, the hatch rate for these chickens is quite low, making it difficult to find a breeder.

Appenzeller Spitzhauben

The national breed of Switzerland, the Appenzeller Spitzhauben is a popular because of its crest that points forward, and it‘s v-shaped comb. This bird is called a Spitzhauben (woman’s hat) because of the shape and appearance of the crest on it’s head.

Appenzeller Spitzhauben show bird

These birds have recognized varieties including Barthuhner, Black Spangled, Blue Spangled, Gold, Gold Spangled, and Silver Spangled.


This impressive large chicken is one of the feather footed varieties, having feathers covering both its legs and feet. These birds have three distinct types of feather patterns which are light feather, dark feather, and buff feather.

Brahma chicken show bird

The feathers are not rounded, but tapered in all three colors. Their feathers are plentiful and dense, in equal measure. Brahma’s are incredibly beautiful and admired for their incredible amount of attractive feathers in all three feather types.


The Onagadori is a Japanese breed of chicken most known for their extremely long tail feathers which range from twelve to twenty-seven feet long. The tail typically has 16 to 18 individual feathers.

Onagadori show bird

This ornamental bird is magnificent to behold but difficult to care for. It is thought only 250 of them exist, making them exceptionally rare and they are considered endangered.

So Should You Buy A Fancy Chicken?

Ultimately, there are many fancy feathered breeds to consider when deciding which breed of chicken is the right one for you – and it highly depends on whether you wish to show the birds or merely want to admire them in your backyard coop.

Of course, feathers aren’t the only important aspect of a chicken, but we hope that the terminology and information provided here will give you a better idea of all of the myriad varieties of fancy feathering that exist.


A longtime resident of Southern California, Christina recently moved across the globe to Austria, where she bought land specifically to build a small house with room for a backyard chicken coop. Christina spent her childhood summers on a farm, raising and caring for a flock of hens owned by her grandparents, which prompted a lifelong love of chickens, and other farm animals. Christina is passionate about writing, having written hundreds of articles for well-known websites, and uses her English degree in service of her love for animal welfare, most recently taking on a writing position at Chicken Care Taker in 2022.

Recent Posts