Within chicken breeds there are a variety of different color patterns that describe their plumage and their particular design. When you read the name of a bird, this color variety is usually the first word. For example, there are Plymouth Rock chickens, but within the breed of Plymouth Rock chickens you have the Barred Plymouth Rock, Silver Penciled Plymouth Rock, Partridge Plymouth Rock and more.
While there is a wide variety of these different plumage patterns that exist, there are a few more common ones that you will see across many different breeds. Most commonly, these plumage patterns include barred feathers, single and double laced, mottled, penciled, spangled, and solid feathers.
Barred feathers are quite easy to spot because they’re simply just stripes across the feathers. It almost resembles an old cartoon jail uniform. The Barred Plymouth Rock Chicken is easily the most common barred chicken breed. Dominiques also have a barred feather pattern and though it’s not usually as distinct as it is on Dominiques and Barred Plymouth Rocks, Cuckoo Marans also resemble the barring pattern. Barred breeds are usually sex-linked, which means you can tell the bird’s sex directly upon hatching.
Single laced feathering is extremely common in backyard breeds. Single lacing looks just like each feather has a fringe or trim around it. Wyandottes are a very common single laced breed as are Cochins. The color used in the name of the chicken doesn’t describe the color of the trim though. For example, Silver Laced Wyandottes and Golden Laced Wyandottes both have black lacing but silver and golden “base feathers” respectively. There isn’t necessarily a rulebook in how you refer to chickens or in what order you say what, but this is generally the case for single lacing as the trim is almost always black or white.
Double laced birds aren’t as common, but you can still see some pop up in backyard farms. One common double laced breed is the Barnevelder. Double laced plumage features the same trim as single lacing, except with another instance of that trim further up the feather. It’s a very striking and intricate color pattern, just check out this Barnevelder!
Mottled feathers present a very interesting and less exact plumage pattern that almost resembles the fur of a spotted dalmatian. Mottled breeds have a loss of pigment in the tip of each feather, meaning the tip is grey or white. After the white tip there’s a black strip and then whatever the bird’s normal plumage color would be. In a lot of mottled breeds like the Ancona, Houdan, or Polish, it’s just white then black and then white or black again, but other mottled birds like the Mottled Leghorn do have instances of red or brown. In all breeds, the mottled pattern gives off an indistinct spotted look.
Penciled feathers are an especially beautiful and intricate design. It somewhat resembles laced plumage but the designs are thinner (hence penciled) and they don’t lace the outside of the feather. Laced feathers feature thicker lines that will go all the way around the outside of the feather. In a penciled plumage, the lines are there but they are very thin and they follow the contour and shape of the feather but don’t necessarily “trim” it. There can be two, three, or four lines on any given feather. There’s nothing quite like an intricately penciled breed. They can be quite mesmerizing to look at!
Examples include the Penciled Cochin or the Penciled Barred Rock.
Like mottled feathers, spangled is another plumage design that features a loss of pigment that gives off a spotted look. In spangled feathers though the loss of pigment occurs in the middle of the feather instead of the tip. The tip and base of the feather have pigment and the middle is just white or gray. One very popular spangled backyard breed is the Silver Spangled Hamburg.
Finally, solid feather coloration are pretty self-explanatory and quite common. That being said, you’re never going to see the word solid in the name of a chicken breed. As you would expect, solid feathers are just the same color throughout and are usually denoted by name by just using a color like Buff or Partridge or sometimes nothing at all. Popular examples include the Buff Orpington, which is just a rich golden buff throughout the bird, or the Leghorn, the famously all-white breed.
We know that it’s sometimes hard to describe things like this through a text blog post, so check out our examples of different feathers to get a good idea of what each plumage type looks like up close and personal. Also visit CackleHatchery.com for our unmatched selection of backyard chicken breeds!