What is the Red Thing on a Chicken – The Comb and Wattle?

It is hard to tell male and female chicks apart in their earliest days. Thankfully, as they mature, the chicks develop unique features that differentiate them.

You will notice a red growth under the beaks of your chickens as they grow. This is called a wattle. There is also a similar growth on their heads called a comb.

Hens and roosters have combs and wattles. Nonetheless, the wattles and combs on your rooster will be more noticeable and larger than in the hens.

Read on to learn more about chicken combs and wattles.

The Importance of the Comb and Wattle in Chickens

The combs and wattles in your chickens might seem like insignificant parts only meant to enhance their appearances. However, these parts are actually considered organs like the kidneys, heart, and liver.

Below are the crucial roles played by the combs and wattles in chickens.

Role in Regulating Body Temperature

Wattles and combs in chickens are like air conditioning systems. Chickens will not sweat like humans. Thankfully, when blood flows through their wattle and combs, these organs can easily transfer their heat to the outside air, thus keeping them cool in hot weather. As such, chickens that live in hot climatic regions have large wattle and combs to combat the heat.

On the other hand, those living in cold areas have small wattles and combs so that they will not lose too much heat to the surroundings.

Indicators of a Chicken’s Health and Wellbeing

Assessing the health of your flock can sometimes be challenging, especially when you do not know what to look out for. Chicken combs can be a good option for assessing your birds’ health.

Remember that a normal chicken comb can be black, purple, red, or black, depending on your chicken’s breed, so keep this in mind when assessing your chicken’s well-being. However, a pullet yet to reach its laying age will have a small pinkish comb

When the comb is pale, this might show that your chicken has a parasite infestation or anemia. A bluish comb indicates that your chicken might have poor blood circulation or respiratory issues, while a white comb is usually a sign of frostbite.

A dry comb shows that your chicken is dehydrated or anemic, while a fire engine red and hot comb is often indicative of fever.

Significance in Breeding and Mating Behavior

Wattles and combs start growing when hormones start circulating in your chickens. They will be more noticeable and larger in roosters because of testosterone, while they will be smaller in hens because of estrogen. Hens want to mate with strong and healthy roosters to increase the odds of survival for their chicks.

The comb is thus a sign of vitality and strength in roosters to attract a hen. On the other hand, when a hen has a vibrant red comb, this shows the rooster that she is healthy and mature, thus making her more attractive.

chicken comb types

Identifying and Distinguishing Chicken Breeds

There are different types of chicken combs, including leaf, walnut, buttercup, strawberry, rose, carnation, cushion, single, duplex, and pea. The shapes and sizes of wattles and combs depend on the chickens’ breeds and unique characteristics. As such, you can use combs and wattles to identify and distinguish chicken breeds.

For instance, Ameraucanas, Buckeyes, and Brahmas have pea combs, while Malays and Yokohamas have strawberry combs. Moreover, Orloffs and Silkies have walnut combs, whereas Rhode Island Reds and Leghorns have single combs.

Common Issues with Chicken Combs and Wattles

As chicken organs, the combs and wattles are as susceptible to diseases and other problems as other organs.

Below are the common issues that affect these organs:


Frostbite is a major issue when your chicken’s comb is exposed to freezing temperatures, more so if the comb is large. The condition follows the freezing of fluid in the comb tissues and damaging the cells to cause cell death. The dead areas will look discolored and later become black since they are deprived of oxygen. Blackened combs eventually dry up and then fall off.

You can slowly warm the comb affected by minor frostbite to treat it. Do not use direct heat such as that from heat lamps and hair dryers to do this. Preventing frostbite in cold areas entails properly ventilating and reducing moisture in the chicken coop. You can also cover the comb with petroleum jelly to keep it warm.

Infections and Diseases

Here are the common infections that affect wattles and combs:

  • Pullet disease (Avian monocytosis or blue comb) often affects birds aged 15-25 weeks. It is characterized by loss of appetite, sudden deaths, diarrhea, and a darkened comb, thus the name blue comb. It is managed by antibiotics and prevented by optimal hygiene and adequate water and food supply.
  • Avian influenza often resolves on its own when mild but more potent strains of the disease can lead to blue wattles and combs, dehydration, facial swelling, and respiratory distress. The condition is highly transmissible, so all exposed birds are ideally euthanized to prevent its spread.
  • Fowl pox is a viral respiratory disease spread through contact with infected birds. It presents as nodules on the comb, wattle, eyes, and ears that eventually become scabs. Its prognosis is generally good, but the condition can complicate to decreased egg laying and growth retardation.
  • Avian ringworm is also called favus. This fungal infection is caused by dermatophytes and presents with white powdery wattles and combs and thickened crusty heads. Treatment entails the use of antifungal agents applied twice daily.

Malformations and Genetic Diseases

The most common genetic issue that can affect the wattle of chickens is hyperandrogenism. This affects broilers and manifests with marked masculinization in both genders. You will notice an intense reddening of wattles and combs, highly aggressive behavior, and coarse facial feathers in affected birds.

You can protect your flock from genetic issues and malformations by only getting your chicks from reputable breeders and getting a vet’s input when breeding your flock.


From the article above, you can see that chicken combs and wattles can be quite interesting. They are crucial in regulating body temperature, indicating a bird’s health, attracting mating partners, and distinguishing a chicken’s breed.

Wattles and combs are also affected by a few issues, including genetic conditions, frostbite, and diseases that you should protect your flock against to guarantee the health of your birds.

avatar James
Hey, I'm James, a hardworking homesteader for more than 30 years. I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that comes from tending my flock. I've raised chickens and ducks for eggs and meat for many years. I also have experience with other poultry too. Learn more

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