Sultan: Ornamental Chicken Breed of the East

The Sultan is a rare, ornamental breed of chicken that originated in Turkey. Interestingly, they where very popular among the Turkish Sultans…

Sultan Name Origin:

The English name for the breed, ‘the Sultan’, stems from the original Turkish name. In Turkey, Sultans are known as ‘Serai-Tavuk’ or ‘Serai Taook’. ‘Serai’ meaning ‘the Sultan’s palace’ and ‘Tavuk’ or ‘Taook’, meaning ‘fowls’. The title for these unique chickens likely came from the breed’s historical popularity among powerful Turkish leadership (during the Ottoman Empire)… And why, you might ask, was this breed so popular? In truth, the main purpose of the breed was ornamental. Because of their beautiful, yet unique look, this fancy breed became a popular ornament for the gardens of the Ottoman Sultanate.

Breed Functionality:

Largely due to the fact that Sultans where not bred to be functional as livestock, Sultans are neither heavy nor exceptional layers. Sultan hens lay about 60 small/medium white eggs per year (which is as little as 1/4 the production as some other egg-laying breeds). Like many ornamental breeds, Sultans are not prone to going ‘broody’ and rarely hatch their own eggs. However, sultans, to this day, are exceptional show chickens and make wonderful pets.

Unique Sultan Physical Characteristics:

Sultans are definitely very eye-catching and indeed, they do have very distinct physical traits.


The Sultan’s head is adorned with a beard, muffs, a full crest and cavernous nostrils. These physical traits cause the Sultan to greatly resemble the Crevcouer and Polish chicken breeds. The Sultan also has a duplex ‘V’ comb (known as ‘horns’).

Legs & Feet:

Sultan chickens’ feet and shanks are light-blue/slate colored and heavily feathered. Sultans also have a genetic predisposition for for extra toes. (Other chicken breeds with this genetic trait include Dorkings and the Silkies.) Largely due to the Sultans foot/shank feathering, show quality Sultans are raised in dry, cozy, very clean cages/pens. This keeps their feathers in tip-top condition.

Sultans also have what are called ‘vulture hocks’. These are feathers found on the lower part of the bird’s thighs that are somewhat stiff (like flight/wing feathers). They extend towards the back-end of the bird (parallel to the wings) and point slightly to the ground. Vulture hocks are quite rare and are an undesirable characteristic in most breeds (including all Asiatic breeds). However, in some breeds (including Belgian D’ Uccle Bantams and Sultans), vulture hocks are a required characteristic.  


Sultans only come in three colors (black, blue and white). However, Sultans originaly only came in white (which is, to this day, the most common Sultan color variation). The other color variations likely resulted from Polish/Sultan crossing.


Sultans are a fairly small breed. Standard Sultan roosters only weighs ~6 pounds (2.75 kilograms). Standard Sultan hens weigh ~4 pounds (1.8 kilograms). However, there is a bantam (miniature) variation of the breed. Bantam Sultan roosters weigh ~26 ounces (740 grams). Bantam hens weigh ~22 ounces (625 grams).

Sultan Chicken Breed Temperament:

Sultans have very docile temperaments. Possibly partially due to their mellow, gentle natures, Sultans do little damage to the ground. In fact, it was historically noted that the grass in Sultans pens remained green after they had been there for some time. Interestingly, this trait would mean that Sultans kept their owners’ gardens in finer condition than most other breeds would have.

Not only are Sultans mellow, but they usually bear confinement extremely well. This benefits them, as well as their poultry enthusiastic owners, in the show world. However, because of their generally easy, tranquil temperaments, they do poorly in flocks with larger, more active breeds. When Sultan chickens are placed in mixed flocks, they tend to be low in the pecking order.

Sultan History:

 Sultans where first imported from their native country in 1854 by Ms. Elizabeth Watts (a poultry enthusiast from Hampstead, England). Ms. Watts (who was also the editor of the Poultry Chronicle) had apparently taken some interest in the breed. She had the first flock imported to Britain from Constantinople (with the help of a friend). However, when the birds reached her, she wrote that they where in extremely poor condition… The once extravagant Sultans had arrived from their long journey dirty, matted and nearly unrecognizable. In fact, they where in such poor shape that Elizabeth was unable to accurately discern their original color until the chickens molted.

By 1867, Sultans had made their way to various parts of North America. In 1874, breed became an officially recognized by the American Poultry Association. However, although Sultans are sometimes featured in poultry shows, it is rare to come across one.

Photos above of a white Sultan rooster (named Sully), owned and photographed  by Amelia E.

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