Grain-eating birds

Silky hen

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Silky hen / Gallus domesticus /

The silky hen (also known as a silky hen or Chinese silky hen) is a breed of hens, so named for their unusually fluffy plumage, stated to be like silk and satin. The breed has a few more unusual features, such as black skin and bones, blue earlobes, and five digits on each foot, while most chickens only have four. They are often showed at poultry exhibitions and have different colors. In addition to their distinctive physical characteristics, silky hens are also known for their calm, friendly nature. They are among the most docile domestic birds.

It is not known exactly where and when these birds with their particular combination of features appeared, but the most proven point of origin is ancient China. Other places in Southeast Asia have been mentioned as possibilities, such as India and Java. The earliest preserved written evidence of “silkies” is by Marco Polo, who wrote about a "hairy" chicken during his travels in Asia in the 13th century. In 1598, Ulisse Aldrovandi - a writer and naturalist from the Bologna University - Italy, published a detailed treatise for chickens that is still read and enjoyed today. There he mentioned "wool-bearing chickens" and those "clothed with fur like a black cat." The silky hens most likely reached the West via the Silk Road and maritime trade. The breed was officially recognized in North America with its acceptance into the Standard of Excellence in 1874. As the “silkies” became more common in the West, many myths were spread about them. The early Dutch breeders told buyers they were the offspring of chickens and rabbits, and others advertised them as having real mammal fur.

In the 21st century, silky hens are among the most popular and widespread ornamental hen breeds. They are often bred as ornamental birds or backyard pets.