What is a Cockerel?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A cockerel is a young rooster, a male chicken which has not been castrated. The point when a chicken transitions from being a cockerel to a rooster is a bit ambiguous, but in general, a rooster is a chicken which has fully matured, and mated with hens, while a cockerel is either still growing, or inexperienced with hens. When a cockerel is castrated, it becomes a capon. Capons do not develop in the same way as uncastrated birds, and they tend to be calmer and easier to handle as well as physically different from roosters and cockerels.

A cooked capon.
A cooked capon.

The term comes from the Old English cokerel, which is a diminutive form of cok, or “rooster.” At one time, adult male chickens were referred to as cocks, but when this term acquired a new definition in slang, the word “rooster” came into being. “Rooster” dates to around the mid-1800s, and it is particularly popular in the United States, a nation where double-entendres about cocks abound around the barnyard.

Cockerels have several traits which distinguish them from hens, often at a very early age. When chicks are first born, it is usually difficult to distinguish between males and females, but within weeks, cockerels have markedly pronounced combs on their heads, and they may appear bulkier, with longer and more decorative tail feathers. As they develop, these traits will become more and more notable.

Roosters tend to be larger and heavier than hens, with muscular bodies and spurred feet used in fighting. They also have long, decorative tail feathers, and heavy wattles and combs. A cockerel often looks particularly sleek and graceful, since the bird has not yet bulked out or begun fighting to defend territory with other birds, although cockerels can and will squabble if left alone with each other. It is common for a cockerel to seem especially proud and self assured, which explains why “cockerel” is sometimes used as a slang term to describe someone with an inflated ego.

Once a cockerel matures into a rooster, he will be happiest with a flock of hens to look after. Roosters generally rely on patrolling their territory to keep their hens loyal, and they will fight viciously with roosters who attempt to steal hens from the flock. The fighting instinct of roosters is world famous, and in some regions, roosters are actually bred specifically for fighting as a blood sport.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


Coq au vin is often made with roosters. Rooster broth is said to be the tastiest. I cannot attest to this, but a French restaurant that serves coq au vin, which is stewed slowly, could very well state that the meat is from a rooster.

Getting to the other question, half of the broilers sold in grocery stores are cockerels. Broilers mature so young, gender does not matter. They are usually processed at about 10-16 weeks.


@angelBraids – Certainly you can eat cockerels. They are cooked just like any other kind of chicken. Of course its tenderness depends a lot on the breed and age of the bird. Generally they are ready for cooking at 12 – 16 months old. Braising or poaching them helps tenderize the meat and roasting them is the most common cooking method.

Restaurants even serve cockerel or rooster on their menus even though it’s referenced under a chicken dish. I’ve eaten several times at my favorite French restaurant and it’s been delicious every time. When it’s prepared well you really can’t tell the difference.


To me a cockerel is a noise machine! I spent a painful year living next door to someone who thought he needed a male bird around for his hens to lay eggs!

It was pretty close to torture being woken up at dawn every morning, seven days a week. I wouldn't have minded if it was a rural area, but this was the suburbs.

Lots of people tried to make him deal with it, offering sensible suggestions like covering the windows of the cockerel's coop to block the light in the early morning. Nothing changed though so I had to move.


@angelBraids - I grew up on a farm and we sometimes ate cockerel meat. Male birds are better eaten young, before they get very muscular. They are more likely to be stewed than roasted.

I don't know for sure if a restaurant would advertise their chicken dish as rooster based, but if cooked properly it really doesn't make a difference.


Are cockerels ever killed for their meat? I know that chickens may be kept alive to lay eggs, and some cocks allowed to mature to be used for mating. I just can't imagine that castrated birds are kept alive for no purpose at all.

Having said that, I've never seen rooster on the menu anyplace I've eaten.

Post your comments
Forgot password?