I don’t think it is any stretch to say that the most iconic image of a precious little baby chick the average person has is of a little, perfectly yellow fuzzball.
This idea is so common that 99% of the time you see a chick depicted anywhere in media, for any purpose, it will be yellow.
It is definitely recognizable, that’s for sure, but does it make sense considering that adult chickens come in all colors and patterns of the rainbow, and you never see a yellow adult running around?
That’s the question, then: Why are chicks yellow in the first place?
Chicks born yellow are that color because their white down is actually stained by the yolk while in the egg. As their feathers grow, they lose this yellow tint.
As it turns out, their feathers don’t grow yellow at all; they are stained that color by the pigmentation present in the yolk itself. How about that?
But things get even more complicated when you realize that not all chicks will be yellow at all! It all depends on the chick’s initial feather color, which is determined by genetics. Interesting stuff, and we will tell you more in the rest of this article.
Are All Chicks Yellow When they Hatch?
No. Chicks can be born with feathers of various colors.
Why are Some Chicks Yellow?
Yellow chicks are born that way because they have been stained by the yolk while in the egg.
The yolk is filled with pigment that will rub off on the nominally white down of the chick as it grows inside of the egg.
This is why you will never see an adult chicken with yellow feathers; they lose their down and grow in proper feathers that are not stained by the yolk.
Only Chicks Born with White Feathers will be Yellow
Only chicks with white feathers or white patches on darker plumage will be yellow when they hatch.
This is due to the fact that the pigment in the yolk only stains white feathers; darker ones still appear dark, not colorful.
So, a chick with any other color of feathering will not be affected by the yolk’s pigmentation and will hatch another color.
Chicks Can Actually Be Dyed in the Shell
As outlandish as it sounds, chicks can actually be dyed any color a person wants while they are still in the shell incubating.
Most often, this practice is employed to make positive identification of chicks from various hens or groups of hens easy to spot at a glance.
This is done in farm or lab settings for easy tracking of characteristics, testing, and other related reasons.
The procedure is accomplished by way of a fine syringe and the appropriate color of dye desired, with the injection site being covered by a small sterile bandage or paraffin wax.
Easy enough to perform, but there is always a chance that a mishap might injure or kill the developing chick.
You will sometimes see this done by some unscrupulous breeders to produce novelty, live, colored chicks for holidays or special occasions, but this practice is heavily frowned upon and you should never do so frivolously.
In any case, this handily illustrates that chicks are not actually born with grown yellow feathers; they just look that way because of the yolk’s pigmentation staining their normally white feathers.
Chicks Can Be Brown, or Other Colors, Too
Chicks, as you’ve learned, aren’t just born yellow. They can be born brown, black, yellow, or in various patterns and shades of the above. It is entirely usual to see chicks of all colors and patterns born in a single clutch.
The Color of a Chick’s Feathers is Determined by Genetics
The color of a chick is determined by the genetics of the parents. There are two main types of plumage coloration in chickens: single-gene and polygenic.
Single-gene plumage is determined by a single gene from each parent, while polygenic plumage is determined by multiple genes from each parent.
The type of plumage coloration a chick will have is determined by the parents. If both parents have single-gene plumage, then the chick will have single-gene plumage.
However, if one parent has single-gene plumage and the other has polygenic plumage, then the chick will have polygenic plumage.
Are Yellow Chicks More Common?
No. Yellow chicks are actually rarer than chicks with black, brown, or patterned plumage. This is because all-white plumage is rarer in most breeds than other colors, and there are few breeds that typically have white feathers, like Polishes, Dorkings and Leghorns, along with a few others.
One might think that, since yellow chicks are rarer than other colored chicks, they must be more valuable. However, this is not the case. The value of a chick is determined by its breed, not it’s color at birth.
Do Chicks Change Color?
Yes. All yellow chicks will lose their yellow, fuzzy feathers as they mature and grow into their adult plumage. Depending on the breed, a chick’s adult plumage can be similar to its birth colors or quite varied.
What Colors Do Chicks Turn Into?
This depends totally on the breed of chicken, as different chicken breeds have been bred to display different plumage colors.
For example, Ameraucanas and Easter Eggers will often retain their blue or greenish-blue plumage after they molt their down.
Other chickens, like Rhode Island Reds, will change into a deep reddish-brown plumage. Some chickens, like the White Leghorn, will stay mostly white as adults.
Still others, like the Barred Plymouth Rock, will go from being stripped as chicks to being barred (having dark and light feathers) as adults.
There are so many different plumage patterns and colors in chickens that it would be impossible to list them all here in this article, but make sure you check out our other pieces about various chicken breeds to what all is out there.
Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.