Sultan Chicken

Gallus gallus domesticus

Last updated: July 12, 2023
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© 09arts/Shutterstock.com

Sultan chickens were bred for royalty and have more unique and distinctive features than any other breed!


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Sultan Chicken Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Galliformes
Family
Phasianidae
Genus
Gallus
Scientific Name
Gallus gallus domesticus

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Sultan Chicken Conservation Status

Sultan Chicken Locations

Sultan Chicken Locations

Sultan Chicken Facts

Prey
Insects and other invertebrates
Name Of Young
Chicks
Group Behavior
  • Flock
Fun Fact
Sultan chickens were bred for royalty and have more unique and distinctive features than any other breed!
Estimated Population Size
Fewer than 1,000 worldwide
Biggest Threat
Lack of interest in maintaining the breed
Most Distinctive Feature
Pure white feathers from head to toe
Distinctive Feature
Feathered crest, beard and muffs; large nostrils on light colored beak; red, V-shaped comb; reddis eyes; vulture hocks; wings held low and tight; long and gracefully curved tail; blue gray shanks and toes; polydactyly with five toes instead of four
Other Name(s)
Serai Täook; Serai-Tavuk
Training
Easy to train
Incubation Period
21 days
Habitat
Only captivity
Predators
Birds of prey, foxes, raccoons, weasels, etc.
Diet
Omnivore
Lifestyle
  • Flock
Favorite Food
Commercial feed; fruits
Common Name
Sultan chicken
Number Of Species
1
Location
Europe, the United States, Australia
Group
Flock
Nesting Location
In secure coops

Sultan Chicken Physical Characteristics

Color
  • White
Skin Type
Feathers
Lifespan
5 to 8 years
Weight
4 to 6 pounds for large size; usually under 2 pounds for bantam size
Venomous
No
Aggression
Low

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Sultan chickens were bred for royalty and have more unique and distinctive features than any other breed!

The 14th century fell at the end of a 900-year period known as the Dark Ages. The time was marked by war and the Black Death. Out of this period of misery and devastation, there arose a beautiful bird fit for royalty. The majestic, pure white Serai Täook, known as the Fowl of the Sultan, took its place as a revered bird of distinction in the palace of the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. This regal chicken even made its way to the menagerie of Louis XIV in Versailles. Never meant for simply laying eggs, this amazing bird was prized for its uniquely fascinating appearance and upright bearing. It exemplified royalty in the poultry world, and today the Sultan chicken can be yours.

Incredible Sultan Chicken Facts

  • Sultan chickens originated in the Ottoman Empire and were bred for Turkish royalty.
  • These birds were included in the royal menageries of Louis XIV at Versailles.
  • Sultan chickens rank among the poorest egg producers yielding only about 50 eggs per year.
  • Sultan chickens look like tiny, angry, Irish dancers in chicken suits with their scowling faces, upright stance, and wings held low and close to the body.
  • The only officially recognized color of Sultan chickens is pure white.
  • Fewer than 1,000 Sultan chickens exist today, making them a critically endangered breed.

Where to Find Sultan Chickens

Sultan chickens originated in the Ottoman Empire in what is now the country of Turkey. Breeders specifically selected traits that enhanced the ornamental quality of the birds. These beautiful white fowl roamed the palace of the Sultan during the 14th century, impressing visitors with their unique qualities. They rarely made their way outside of Turkey in the years that followed.

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In 1854, Sultan chickens found their way to England, possibly for the first time. A chicken enthusiast named Elizabeth Watts imported some of the chickens from a friend in Constantinople. Watts not only raised chickens in her hometown of Hampstead, England, she also served as the editor of the Poultry Chronicle in London. As a poultry expert. Watts gave the travel-worn chickens their best chance at thriving in England and helped establish the breed in Great Britain.

By 1867, the still rare Sultan chickens finally migrated across the pond. The American poultry aficionado and author, George O. Brown, imported a few of the birds to start his own small flock. Perhaps thanks to Brown’s enthusiasm for the birds, the American Poultry Association accepted the Sultan chicken into its Standard of Perfection in 1874.

Sadly, the once revered Sultan chicken failed to rise significantly in popularity. Within 50 years, it nearly went extinct. Since the 1930s, poultry enthusiasts have made efforts to conserve the breed, but it remains quite rare.



Scientific Name

The Sultan chicken is a member of the species, Gallus gallus domesticus. This species encompasses the many domestic chicken breeds known today. Domestic chickens descend mainly from the Red Junglefowl, Gallus gallus. Linnaeus described the Red Junglefowl in 1758, but evidence indicates it existed for thousands of years before.

The common name, Sultan chicken, is but one of the names given to this breed. Some call it Serai Täook or Serai-Tavuk, both of which translate to “fowl of the Sultan.” The name makes sense, as the bird originally lived in the gardens of the Sultan during the time of the Ottoman Empire.

Appearance

True Sultan chickens are snow white birds. They have brilliant white feathers from head to toe. Some breeders have mixed them with other breeds, such as the Polish chicken, to create hybrids of black and blue, but organizations such as the American Poultry Association do not officially recognize these colors.

Sultan chickens are classified as a large breed, but they are among the smallest of that category. They have small and slender bodies with long, gracefully curved tails. Sultan hens reach weights of only about four pounds, while roosters can grow to about six pounds. Bantam sized Sultan chickens generally weigh less than two pounds.

Distinctive Features

These birds stand out among other fowl. They have more unique and distinctive features than any other known chicken. Starting at the top of their head, the Sultan chicken has an unusual V-shaped comb. A large crest, full beard, and muffs adorn its head. The white or flesh-colored beak features large nostrils, a trait not seen in most chickens. Its uncommon reddish-bay eyes stand out against the bird’s white plumage.

Sultan chickens usually stand erect and carry their wings lower than most chickens, looking a bit like little Irish dancers in chicken suits. Beneath their wings, they have long, straight feathers called vulture hocks that grow from their thighs and point to the ground. These feathers are a rare feature seen only on a few known chicken breeds.

As mentioned, Sultan chickens have white feathers all the way to their toes. Beneath the abundant feathers, they sport slate blue shanks and feet. Unlike most chickens, which have four toes, the Sultan chicken has five. This condition, known as polydactyly, is uncommon and caused by a genetic mutation. Only about a dozen chicken breeds exhibit five-toed polydactyly today. The mutation in Sultan chickens may have originated in ancient Pavlov chickens from Russia, which are now extinct.

Sultan chicken

This bantam-sized Sultan chicken proudly stands erect on a fence rail.

©Consolvo Images/Shutterstock.com

Behavior

Breeders describe Sultan chickens as sweet, calm, and very friendly. George O. Brown, the poultry expert who first imported these chickens to the United States, called them some of the tamest and most content birds he had ever encountered. Indeed, these regal birds must have been well behaved to have been accepted in both the palace gardens of the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and royal menageries of Louis XIV of France.

Sultan chickens, though not considered particularly noisy, do love to sing. The noises they make are described as soft and melodic. They tend to talk or sing throughout much of the day.

These docile chickens love to be around people. They enjoy being petted and rarely show any sort of aggression. Breeders say that the Sultan chicken has a curious nature and gentle demeanor that make them exceptionally easy to train. Unfortunately, these same traits cause these birds to fall victim to bullies in mixed flocks. Owners should take care to keep them separated from larger or meaner chickens.  

Thankfully, Sultan chickens adapt easily to confinement. They do well in covered runs, which help protect them from both predators and other chickens. They are gentle on the ground within their enclosure, leaving much grass intact, and seem quite content with relatively little space to roam.

Diet & Care

Sultan chickens, like most other domestic breeds, typically eat commercial chicken feed supplemented by other healthy treats. These chickens will forage, but perhaps not quite as aggressively as other breeds. They enjoy eating insects, larvae, worms and other invertebrates, but do not tend to scratch the ground too much. They also readily eat seeds. As for treats, breeders report that Sultan chickens highly prefer fruits over vegetables.

Like other highly feathered breeds with crests, beards, and feathered shanks, Sultan chickens get wet and dirty very easily. Breeders can help by providing the birds with water sources that are less likely to create a wet and muddy mess. Elevated water dishes or nipple-based watering systems are good options for these birds.

Likewise, breeders must ensure that coops and enclosures stay extremely clean and dry. These chickens do not tolerate cold weather well, and they have an even tougher time if they get wet. They do much better in warm or even hot climates. Coops should be ventilated well and heated in the winter if necessary to keep the birds from getting too cold.  

Reproduction

Sultan chickens seem almost averse to reproduction. They lay only about 50 small, white eggs per year. That equals less than one egg per week. The hens rarely if ever go broody. Sultans typically refuse to sit on their eggs, so hatching a brood the natural way is extremely unlikely. Breeders can buy chicks from hatcheries, or they can try incubating their own. The incubation period is around 21 days.

The difficulties in hatching chicks and growing a flock probably contributed significantly to the decline of this breed over the years. Royal families likely had servants to tend to every aspect of raising these exceptional chickens, but ordinary farmers did not.

Predators

Sultan chickens fly exceptionally well. If allowed to roam freely, they can evade most common ground predators, such as foxes, raccoons and weasels, as long as they see them coming. Unfortunately, their feathered crests and muffs obscure their vision, preventing them from spotting a sneaky attacker. They face threats especially from large birds of prey such as owls, hawks, and eagles. They just can’t see these predators swooping down on them unless they attack from the front.

Owners can protect their Sultan chickens by using completely enclosed runs where they can spend time outdoors safely. These enclosures also prevent the flighty birds from taking off whenever they feel the urge.

Lifespan & Conservation

Sultan chickens live about five to eight years on average, but because they lay such a small number of eggs and do not go broody, breeders have a hard time hatching new chicks. They take a lot more work to keep healthy than most other breeds and owners must pay special attention to keeping them warm, dry and free of parasites. These factors probably played a strong role in their decline over the years. Despite their beauty and their storied heritage, Sultan chickens do not make conservation an easy task.

Today, Sultan chickens are among the rarest of chicken breeds. The Livestock Conservancy lists them as critical in their Conservation Priority List. This category features the most endangered livestock breeds. For poultry, this includes breeds with fewer than 1,000 individuals worldwide and in great need of conservation efforts.

If you are an experienced backyard breeder with the time to dedicate to an amazing breed fit for royalty, you could help save the Sultan chicken. Breeders can order chicks from a select number of hatcheries, though they typically cost a bit more than other breeds. One bird captured a price of 5,000 Turkish Lira at an auction in 2019, equivalent to a little over $200 today. In the United States, the chicks typically sell for around $10 or less.

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About the Author

Tavia Fuller Armstrong is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on birds, mammals, reptiles, and chemistry. Tavia has been researching and writing about animals for approximately 30 years, since she completed an internship with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Tavia holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology with a wildlife emphasis from the University of Central Oklahoma. A resident of Oklahoma, Tavia has worked at the federal, state, and local level to educate hundreds of young people about science, wildlife, and endangered species.

Sultan Chicken FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What do Sultan chickens look like?

The Sultan chicken is feathered from head to toe with pure white plumes. It has a long and gracefully curved tail. Its comb has an unusual V-shape. A large crest, full beard, and muffs adorn its head. The white or flesh-colored beak features large nostrils, a trait not seen in most chickens. Its uncommon reddish-bay eyes stand out against the bird’s white plumage. Sultan chickens usually stand erect and carry their wings lower than most chickens, looking a bit like little Irish dancers in chicken suits. Beneath their wings, they have long, straight feathers called vulture hocks that grow from their thighs and point to the ground. These feathers are a rare feature seen only on a few known chicken breeds. Beneath the abundant leg feathers, they sport slate blue shanks and feet. Unlike most chickens, which have four toes, the Sultan chicken has five.

How big are Sultan chickens?

Sultan chickens are among the smallest of the large breed chickens. Hens reach only about 4 pounds, and roosters weigh approximately 6 pounds at maturity.

What is special about the Sultan chicken’s wings?

The Sultan chicken holds its wings down toward the ground and close to the body. The wings cover long feathers coming from the thighs known as vulture hocks. The way the Sultan chicken stands erect and holds its wings down and to its sides makes it look a lot like an Irish dancer.

How well do Sultan chickens fly?

Sultan chickens are excellent flyers. Breeders should provide fully enclosed runs, as even high fences are not likely to keep these birds contained.

How many varieties of Sultan chickens exist?

Sultan chickens belong to the species Gallus gallus domesticus. Only one variety of the breed, the pure white, is recognized, in both large and bantam sized.

What makes Sultan chickens special?

Sultan chickens were bred for royalty. They roamed the gardens of the Sultan in the Ottoman Empire and later the royal menageries of Louis XIV of France. They are extremely rare and they have more unique and distinctive features than any other breed.

Where do Sultan chickens live?

Sultan chickens live mainly in Europe and the United States. Very few individuals exist worldwide.

What do Sultan chickens eat?

Sultan chickens eat primarily commercial feed. Because they are so highly feathered, a feed rich in protein is ideal. They also forage for insects and other invertebrates and seeds. As for treats, they reportedly prefer fruits over vegetables.

How many eggs do Sultan chickens lay?

Sultan chickens are very poor egg producers. They average less than one egg per week, laying only around 50 eggs per year.

Do Sultan chickens go broody?

Sultan chickens live about five to eight years, but they are more difficult to keep healthy than many other breeds. They are hardy and tolerant in hot climates, but do not do well in the cold. They are especially susceptible to illness if they get wet.

Are Sultan chickens rare?

The Sultan chicken is one of the rarest breeds in the world. The Livestock Conservancy has listed the Sultan chicken as critical on its Conservation Priority List. This means there are fewer than 1,000 birds worldwide and the breed is in dire need of conservation efforts if it is to survive.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. The Livestock Conservancy, Available here: https://livestockconservancy.org/heritage-breeds/heritage-breeds-list/sultan-chicken/
  2. Five Toed Chickens/Elio Corti, et. al., Available here: https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/document?repid=rep1&type=pdf&doi=c71c19b1f300d3d76ea3d3480856fb57bc86770f
  3. The Royal Menageries of Louis XIV and the Civilizing Process Revisited/Peter Sahlins, Available here: https://read.dukeupress.edu/french-historical-studies/article-abstract/35/2/237/9714/The-Royal-Menageries-of-Louis-XIV-and-the
  4. Daily Sabah, Available here: https://www.dailysabah.com/turkey/2019/03/11/sultan-chicken-sold-for-tl-5000-in-years-first-auction

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