Family: Phasianidae - pheasants and partridges
Scientific Name: Gallus gallus japonese silkie
Description: Silkie chickens are a domestic breed named for their feathers, which are almost silk-like or fur-like in appearance. The feathers lack barbicels, so the barbs fluff out instead of laying smoothly like the feathers of most birds. They are the only chickens to have black skin. This breed is also unique in having five toes on each foot, instead of the usual four. They have a crest of feathers on the top of the head, and may be bearded as well. Their legs are also feathered, with feathers continuing along the middle toe on each foot. The feathers can come in many colors, including white, black, blue, buff, brown, and gray. Regardless of feather color, the eyes are black, the beak, legs, and feet should be grayish-blue, and exposed skin on the face should be mulberry-colored. The breed is divided into two size categories: large fowl, which weigh an average of 4 pounds, and bantam, which are significantly smaller.
Home Range: Probably originated in eastern Asia, now kept domestically worldwide.
Habitat Type: If kept outdoors, they need a warm and dry habitat. They do not fly well, so they require low perches and nesting boxes.
Reproduction: Silkie chickens lay medium-sized eggs, ranging in color from white to light brown. They are dependable, prolific layers, and one hen can easily raise a clutch of 8-12 eggs. Among poultry breeders, they are known for their gentle nature and well-developed parenting skills. Many breeders of quail or pheasants will keep a flock of Silkie hens to hatch any extra eggs – the Silkies will hatch and raise almost any kind of poultry or game fowl. In many cases, the male will help to raise the chicks, leading them around their enclosure and calling them over to share food.
Diet in the Wild: This breed is not found in the wild. Silkie clubs recommend feeding layer pellets and greens such as cabbage.
Diet in the Zoo: Layer pellets and scratch mix
General Information: Silkie chickens (along with other domestic chickens) came from a subspecies of the red jungle fowl of Southeast Asia. No one knows for certain when the breed was developed, but it was already known in China in the 13th century. During a trip to China, Marco Polo wrote about “fur-covered fowls” with black skin. The breed has undergone many changes since then. The crests are larger, they have more feathering of the legs, and they come in a much wider variety of colors. The original Silkies were all white.
Silkie chickens can be kept as pets. They are gentle and docile, and seem to enjoy attention from people. They are also becoming more popular show birds, and have recently begun to win top prizes at major shows.
Conservation Status: Not threatened
Predators: As domestic animals, they are usually kept away from any potential predators.
Related Artifacts: None
Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol. 2. 1994. J. del Hoyo, A. Elliott, and J. Sargatal. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. pp. 529-530.