Fowl Vs. Chicken: Comparison, Differences, Characteristics

You may have heard the terms fowl and chicken used interchangeably, whether you are new to keeping chickens or have had them for a while. 

However, they do not have the same definition. 

They refer to very different things. 

The definitions for each term refer to a class of birds and a bird species. 

While a chicken is also a fowl, not all fowls are chickens. 

We’ll compare the terms fowl and chicken and let you know all about the differences and characteristics of each term.  

The terms fowl and chicken do not mean the same thing. Fowl refers to a larger class of birds, both wild and domesticated. The word chicken refers to domesticated fowl raised for meat and eggs. Chickens are a subcategory of fowls, but not all fowl are chickens. 

Sometimes it is confusing to have two similar words used interchangeably. 

This is especially true when they do not have the same definition and refer to two different things. 

We’ll go over exactly what the terms fowl and chicken mean and other comparisons, differences, and characteristics. 

fowl vs chicken

What Is The Difference Between A Fowl And A Chicken?

If you have a backyard flock, you’ve heard the terms fowl and chicken tossed around. 

Chicken jargon gets confusing, and people use it as if they mean the same thing in many instances. 

This is not the case. 

These terms have their separate definitions and refer to different types of birds. 

There are a few key differences between fowl and chickens to keep in mind when referring to a specific bird. 

Fowl refers to both wild birds and domestic fowl. 

The term is a superorder of birds closely related genetically. 

Common types of fowl include pheasants, turkeys, chickens, and partridge. 

The term fowl refers to both wild gallinaceous birds and domesticated birds. 

The chicken family falls under the fowl terminology. 

The key difference between the two terms is how specific you want to be when describing a bird. 

As chicken owners, it helps to stay updated on chicken knowledge. 

The word chicken is the correct terminology for the egg-laying, feathery friends in your backyard or on your farm. 

While they are also under the umbrella term fowl, it is more accurate to call them chickens. 

Domestic barnyard chickens share close evolutionary relatives with other types of fowl. 

What Are The Characteristics Of A Fowl?

The word fowl refers to a clade of birds with similar genetic and evolutionary characteristics. 

There are many different types of fowl, but they all fall under gamefowl, landfowl, and waterfowl. 

A few common characteristics are shared by all fowl, whether they live on land or water. 

Fowl Are Prolific Layers

Most fowl are prolific egg-layers. 

They are also known to produce large clutches. 

A clutch is a collection of eggs. 

This means either unfertilized or fertilized eggs are laid in large numbers. 

Usually, the clutch of a fowl is about 5 eggs, although this varies among species and breeds. 

We are all familiar with the egg-laying potential of a healthy chicken with prolific breeds producing 200 or more chicken eggs a year. 

Most Fowl Are Monogamous 

Many species and breeds of fowl are monogamous at least for one season. 

This means they will stay with the same mate for the breeding season. 

We see this commonly in various waterfowl like swans, geese, and ducks. 

There are some major exceptions to this rule.

For example, chicken keepers are well aware of the multiple partners shared by a rooster in the backyard coop. 

Often, one or two roosters will mate with an entire flock. 

This is often necessary as the head rooster is known for being particularly brutal and territorial toward his hens. 

Fowl Have Precocious Young

Fowl are known to have very active young. 

Most young fowl are swimming and diving from the early days of their life. 

Some roosters will begin fighting as early as a few weeks of age. 

It also doesn’t take long for a pullet or young chicken ready to emerge into egg-laying hens. 

Hybridization Is Possible Among Fowl

There are some instances of hybridization among fowl species. 

Hybridization is the crossing of species by interbreeding.

Most of the time, the offspring are not viable and do not live long outside the shell. 

There are some cases of successful interbreeding among differing fowl species. 

The two common examples are chicken and pheasants and chicken and ducks.

What Are The Characteristics Of A Chicken?

characteristics of chicken and fowl

Chickens are rounded and squat birds. 

They have feathers ranging in colors depending on the breed of chicken. 

Different breeds of chicken have different lifespans and appearances. 

However, they all have feathers and a comb. 

The comb is usually red, but some chickens have a pale red or pink comb instead. 

Most chickens also have wattles. Wattles hang below the beak. 

They are also most commonly red. Another common characteristic of chickens is their high-arched tails. 

Domesticated chickens are primarily kept for egg-laying and meat purposes, although some are kept for show or fighting. 

Cockfighting has lost significant popularity over the years, so not many chickens or roosters are kept for this purpose anymore. 

However, this is largely due to its being illegal in many countries.  

The domesticated chicken’s ancestors are Southeast Asia’s red and gray jungle fowl. 

These were wild species of landfowl domesticated for meat and egg-laying. 

Chickens range wildly in color and purpose depending on what they were bred for. 

Plumage colors come in red, brown, white, black, gray, lavender, and various speckled and spotted patterns. 

Those with particular unique plumage are often kept as ornamental chickens. 

Their eggs also range in color from white, brown, and even blue. 

What Makes A Fowl A Chicken?

The domesticated barnyard chicken is a type of fowl. 

Over centuries of domestication, wildfowl have been cultivated into the conventional chickens we are familiar with today. 

Some chicken aficionados are familiar with the scientific name Gallus gallus domesticus, which refers to the fowl chicken we keep for eggs and meat. 

Chickens have been domesticated throughout history. 

The origins of our coop of chickens are believed to be from the wild junglefowl. 

This means our chickens are descended from wildfowl and are now domesticated for egg-laying and meat production. 

Did you know a chicken isn’t a mammal? Sounds obvious, but there are specific reasons why.

Other Types Of Fowl

In addition to chickens, there are many other types of fowl. 

The most recognizable are the turkey, partridge, and pheasant. 

Each of these is gamefowl or landfowl, and some are also domesticated birds. 

There are two main biological orders branching out from the term fowl. 

Gamefowl

Gamefowl refers to fowl existing on the land. 

They are often hunted for sport or meat and exist in the wild. 

There are many different types of gamefowl, but most people are familiar with the pheasants and quail as common varieties. 

Landfowl

Landfowl is another term for gamefowl. 

They exist in the wild predominantly on land. 

They are hunted for sport and meat. 

Chickens are a domesticated variety of landfowl as they exist primarily on land. 

We all love to keep chickens for egg-laying, meat production, and garden helpers. 

Chickens even help to get rid of bugs and mosquitos in the yard and also help by eating our table scraps and garden leftovers. 

Our beloved backyard chickens are descended from wild landfowl. 

Waterfowl 

Waterfowl is the other major biological order under the term fowl. 

The term refers to fowl who live near water and spend ample time in the water. 

The most common varieties are ducks and geese. 

We see these swimming and coasting around on lakes, ponds, and rivers. 

They also often keep their nests, lay eggs, and raise their young near bodies of water. 

Waterfowl are also hunted for sport and meat. 

Like chickens, there are domesticated and wildfowl. 

What Is The Difference Between Hen And Chicken?

Another common question about poultry terminology is the difference between hens and chickens. 

Like chicken and fowl, the terms have very different definitions. 

Hens refer to egg-laying chickens. 

Chickens encompass many other types in addition to hens. 

Roosters, pullets, chicks, and spent hens are all types of chickens. 

A hen is always a chicken, but a chicken isn’t always a hen. 

Here are some other common chicken terms used to describe different aged chickens:

  • Hens refer to egg-laying female chickens. 
  • Pullets refer to young female chickens who have not yet started laying eggs. 
  • A spent hen refers to an old, non-egg-laying chicken. 
  • Roosters are mature chickens of the male sex. 
  • A cockerel is another name for a male chicken or rooster.

What Does Poultry Mean?

Poultry is another term used when discussing chickens. 

Chicken is a type of poultry. 

The term poultry describes the meat of a chicken. 

Some other examples of poultry include the flesh of turkeys, ducks, and geese. 

These are each a type of poultry bird popular for consumption. 

The domestication of poultry began centuries ago to provide meat for families. 

The fresh meat from poultry birds provides an excellent food source. 

It is nutritious meat with lots of protein.