Chicken Combs & Wattles: Everything You Need to Know

Close up of a red chicken comb and wattles

Ever noticed those odd red things on top of a chicken’s head and under its beak? Those are the chicken’s combs and wattles, and believe it or not, they’re super important.

More than just unique features, combs and wattles help keep chickens cool and can give you clues about their health and mood. So, if you’re keeping chickens, paying attention to them can give you some great insights.

This guide will cover all you need to know about chicken combs and wattles, including their purpose, common problems, and how to keep them healthy. So, if you’d like to learn more about these funky chicken features, read on!

What Are the Different Types of Chicken Combs?

Chicken combs come in various shapes and sizes, each with its own distinct features. Listed below are the main types of chicken combs you’re likely to encounter.

1. Single Comb

Single comb

The single comb is probably the most recognized type of chicken comb. They stand upright and have evenly spaced serrations or points, usually five to six, running along the top.

Rhode Island Reds, Jersey Giants, Leghorns, Australorps, Anconas, Lakenvelders, Langshans, Cochins, Orpingtons, Marans, and Minorcas are just a few of the many breeds that sport this classic comb.

2. Rose Comb

Rose comb

Imagine a comb that looks like a little tube sitting on top of a chicken’s head, stretching from right above its beak all the way to the back. That’s what a rose comb is like.

It’s wide and flat at the front, with lots of tiny round bumps, and it ends in a sharp point that can stick up, curve down, or even go straight out, depending on the chicken breed.

Breeds showcasing this comb type include Wyandottes, Sebrights, Dominiques, Hamburgs, and Red Caps.

3. Pea Comb

Pea comb

The pea comb features three parallel rows of small bumps, with the center row slightly raised.

Breeds like the Ameraucana, Araucana, Buckeye, Brahma, Cornish, Cubalaya, Sumatra, and Easter Egger sport this comb type, which is well-suited for cold weather due to its compact size.

4. Walnut Comb

Walnut comb

The walnut comb is thick, round, and wrinkly, resembling the surface of a walnut. This unique look comes from mixing the genes for the rose and pea combs.

Because it’s pretty compact, the walnut comb is great for chickens living in cold places. Its smaller size means chickens are less likely to get frostbite on their combs.

You’ll see this type of comb on breeds like the Orloff and the Silkie.

5. Cushion Comb

Cushion comb
Image credit: traderme_ / Instagram

Blending seamlessly into the chicken’s head, the cushion comb is small, round, and smooth. It’s very compact and lacks any points or spikes, which makes it almost hidden.

The Chantecler, a breed developed for Canadian winters, typically has this comb type, which offers excellent cold resistance without the risk of frostbite.

6. V-shaped Comb

V shaped comb

Also called the Devil’s Horn, the V-shaped comb has two horn-like points forming a “V” shape. While this type of comb is visually appealing, its main issue is that it can easily get frostbitten.

Due to its shape, the V-shaped comb has less surface area to distribute heat, so it’s more vulnerable to cold weather. You’ll find this comb on Polish, Houdan, Crevecoeur, La Fleche, and Sultan chickens.

7. Buttercup Comb

Buttercup comb
Image credit: chicken_life_vashon / Instagram

Exclusive to the Sicilian Buttercup breed, the buttercup comb features a crown-like circle of pointed spikes surrounding a central cup, which makes it look like a blooming flower.

Unlike other comb types, the Buttercup comb’s elaborate structure doesn’t particularly benefit the chicken in terms of climate adaptability, but it certainly adds a regal flair to the breed’s appearance.

8. Strawberry Comb

Strawberry comb
Image credit: hirvolan_tila / Instagram

Think of a strawberry’s bumpy surface, and you’ve got the strawberry comb. It’s kind of shaped like an egg, with the bigger end right above the chicken’s beak.

This comb isn’t something you see every day, which makes chickens like the Malay and Yokohama really stand out.

9. Carnation Comb

Carnation comb
Image credit: invertedlifesf / Instagram

The carnation comb, also known as the king’s comb, is pretty special because you’ll only find it on two types of chickens in the whole world: the Empordanesa and the Penedesenca.

This comb sort of looks like the usual single comb but with a twist — it’s got extra spikes sticking out. These extra bits make the comb look a bit like the petals of a carnation flower, giving these chickens a fancy, royal touch.

Why Do Chickens Have Combs?

At first glance, you might think a chicken’s comb is just for show, but it’s actually key to their health and social life. Combs help chickens regulate their body temperature.

Since chickens can’t sweat, they use their combs to release excess heat. Blood flows through the comb, cools down, and helps the chicken stay cool, especially in warm weather.

Meanwhile, in colder climates, chickens adapt by restricting blood flow to their combs. This strategy conserves warmth but has a downside: it increases the risk of frostbite on their combs in freezing conditions.

But combs aren’t just about temperature control. They also play a role in social interactions among chickens. They can be a sign of dominance and attractiveness, not just in roosters but also in hens.

A study observing laying hens found that those with larger and redder combs were more likely to assert dominance.

It turns out that chickens use these visual hints, like comb size and color, to figure out their pecking order, with the ones with the most impressive combs usually coming out on top.

Fun Fact: A chicken’s comb is also tied to their egg-laying abilities! Research shows that hens with larger combs tend to lay more eggs.

This is because their bigger combs are associated with denser bones, which means more calcium for stronger eggshells.

What Does a Healthy Chicken Comb Look Like?

Chicken comb and wattles

When checking if a chicken is in good health, one of the first things to look at is its comb. Here’s what a healthy chicken comb should look like:

  • Color: A healthy comb is usually a bright, vibrant red. The exact shade can vary depending on the chicken’s breed, but the key is that it should look lively and full of color. Some breeds may naturally have combs that are purple or even black, but these should also be vibrant and not dull.
  • Texture and Appearance: The comb should be smooth, without any rough patches, flakiness, or signs of peeling. It should feel plump and firm to the touch, which indicates that the chicken is well-hydrated and free from dehydration or illness.
  • Position: Depending on the comb type, a healthy comb should stand upright or follow its natural shape closely. For example, a single comb should be straight and alert, while a rose comb should be snug against the head. A droopy or limp comb can be a sign of illness or distress.
  • Size: While the size of a comb varies widely among chicken breeds, a healthy comb should be proportionate to the bird’s size and consistent with the breed’s traits. If it looks swollen or too big, it can be a sign of a health issue.
  • Absence of Abnormalities: A healthy comb should be free from sores, blisters, and any signs of parasites like mites or lice. These can be signs of diseases or infections that require medical attention.

While a healthy comb is a good indicator of a chicken’s overall health, it’s smart to look for other clues as well, such as their energy levels, feather condition, and appetite.

This way, you’ll get a full picture of how your chicken is really doing. For more insights on what your chicken’s comb could be revealing about their health, check out this video:

What Your Chicken's Comb Could be Telling You

Common Chicken Comb Problems

Chicken combs play important roles in a chicken’s health, but they can also face several problems. Knowing about these common issues can help you be prepared and take better care of your flock.


Swelling can be a sign of an unhealthy chicken comb and might indicate several issues, including serious ones like avian influenza or coryza, which can cause your chicken to appear sick and lethargic.

However, not all swelling is severe. For instance, I once found one of my hens with a swollen comb and got really worried.

It turned out to be just a tick bite, and with prompt care, we managed to avoid any serious infection. This experience taught me the importance of closely monitoring even the smallest changes in my chickens’ combs.


Combs can get injured, especially in environments where chickens might peck at each other or bump into things. Cuts or wounds on the comb need to be treated promptly to prevent infection.

Keeping chickens in a safe, spacious environment can help minimize these risks.


Frostbite is a common problem for chickens, especially for breeds with large, exposed combs. Frostbitten combs can turn black and may eventually fall off.

Providing a well-ventilated yet draft-free coop during winter can help prevent frostbite.

Pro Tip: Boost your flock’s fat intake during the cold months by adding some cracked corn to their regular feed. This extra fat helps them stay warm and energized, lowering the risk of frostbite.


External parasites, such as mites and lice, can target the comb and cause irritation, anemia, and a pale appearance.

These pests not only affect the comb’s health but can also lead to more serious health issues if left untreated. Keeping the coop clean and checking your chickens regularly can help keep these pests at bay.

Pro Tip: To quickly check for signs of anemia, press on the comb gently with your finger and thumb to make it go pale, then let go.

If it snaps back to its bright color in a second or two, you’re chicken is in the clear. If it takes longer, this could be a warning sign of anemia.


Favus, or white comb, is a fungal infection characterized by a white, chalky appearance on the comb.

This condition can usually be treated with antifungal medications, but it needs to be caught early to prevent spreading to other parts of the body and to other chickens.


Fowlpox is a viral disease that can cause lesions on the comb and wattles, making them appear scabby or wart-like.

This condition spreads slowly but can significantly affect a chicken’s health if not addressed. Vaccination and maintaining a clean coop can help prevent fowlpox outbreaks.

Fungal Infections

Combs can be prone to fungal infections, with cutaneous mycosis or candidiasis being among the most common. These infections, caused by Candida albicans, lead to crusty white spots on the comb.

I actually saw this happen in a neighbor’s flock. Initially, it was just a few white spots on one hen’s comb, but it quickly spread to its wattles, face, ear lobes, and neck.

The affected hen started losing feathers around those areas, and little black scabs developed within the lesions.

Watching this unfold really drove home how these infections can start small but have a big impact, which highlights the critical need for early detection and treatment.

How to Keep Chicken Combs Healthy

Grey chicken with bright red comb and wattles

Keeping chicken combs healthy is crucial not just for the chicken’s overall well-being but also as an indicator of their health status. Here’s how to make sure your chickens’ combs stay healthy:

  • Feed them right: A balanced diet is key to a healthy comb. Ensure your chickens have access to a diet rich in vitamins and minerals. Adding some high-protein snacks like black oil sunflower seeds can also give their combs that bright red color.
  • Maintain a clean coop: A dirty coop can lead to all sorts of comb problems, from fungal infections to bug infestations. Regularly clean and disinfect the coop to prevent the buildup of harmful pathogens.
  • Avoid overcrowding: Stress from overcrowding can lead to pecking and injuries, including damage to combs. Ensure your chickens have enough space to live comfortably and reduce stress levels.
  • Protect against cold weather: Chickens’ combs can get frostbite in the winter, which is as bad as it sounds. Rubbing a little petroleum jelly on their combs can protect them from the cold. Also, make sure their coop is well-ventilated but without any chilly drafts.
  • Provide shade and water: Chickens need shade and water to stay cool in the summer. Make sure they have a nice spot to relax out of the sun and plenty of fresh water to drink to help them regulate their body temperature and keep their combs looking good.
  • Monitor for diseases: Regularly check out your chickens’ combs for any weird changes, like spots, colors, or textures that just don’t look right. Catching problems early can make a big difference. If something seems off, it might be time to call the vet.

Taking care of your chickens’ combs means paying attention to their overall lifestyle, from what they eat to where they live. A little effort goes a long way toward keeping your flock healthy and their combs bright and perky.

What Are Chicken Wattles?

Chicken wattles are those dangly bits of skin you see hanging under a chicken’s beak, right on either side of their neck.

They’re a standard part of a chicken’s anatomy, found in both hens and roosters, although they tend to be larger and more pronounced in roosters.

Wattles can be different sizes and colors, often matching the chicken’s comb, and they can be anything from bright red to deep burgundy, depending on the breed and the health of the chicken.

Even though they might look a bit odd, wattles are an important part of what makes a chicken a chicken, contributing to various aspects of their physiology and behavior.

Why Do Chickens Have Wattles?

Rooster with red comb and wattles

Much like combs, one of the main reasons chickens have wattles is for body temperature regulation.

These flaps help cool the chicken down, thanks to the blood vessels they contain. As blood circulates through the wattles, it releases excess heat, which helps the chicken maintain a comfortable body temperature.

Besides keeping chickens cool, wattles also play a role in their social and reproductive behaviors. Wattles can signal a chicken’s health and fertility to potential mates.

As chickens grow, a change in the color of their wattles to a bright red not only signals the start of egg-laying for pullets but also reflects the rising testosterone levels in cockerels, marking them ready for reproduction.

Generally, a chicken with bright, full wattles is seen as healthier and more attractive. This is especially true for roosters, where larger wattles can make them more appealing to hens and more intimidating to rivals.

Frequently Asked Questions

Chicken with prominent red comb and wattles

Do Hens Have Combs?

Yes, hens do have combs, just like roosters. However, their combs might be smaller and less pronounced. The shape and size of a hen’s comb can vary depending on the breed.

Are Chicken Combs Always Red?

Chicken combs aren’t always red. Although most are bright red when healthy, certain chicken breeds, like the Black Silkie and Ayam Cemani, naturally have black combs.

Moreover, the color of a chicken’s comb can change based on its health status, which makes it an important indicator for chicken keepers to monitor.

Is It Normal for the Chicken Comb to Flop Over?

Yes, it’s normal for a chicken comb to flop over, especially in breeds with larger combs, such as Leghorns. However, if a comb that is normally upright starts to droop, it could signal a health issue.

Conditions like low blood pressure or dehydration can cause a comb to suddenly hang down. So, while a floppy comb can be a breed trait, any unusual changes should be monitored for potential health concerns.

Why Is My Chicken’s Comb Pale and Floppy?

If your chicken’s comb is looking pale and floppy, it could mean a few things. They might be dehydrated, not feeling well, or even anemic. Sometimes, it’s just because they’re molting, which should be normal.

If you notice the comb changing color or drooping, it’s a good idea to make sure they’re drinking enough water and check up on their health.

So, do you have questions or tips to share about chicken combs and wattles? Feel free to comment below!

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