A rooster (also called a cock or chanticleer) is a male chicken (Gallus gallus), the female being called a hen. Immature male chickens of less than a year's age are called cockerels. The oldest term is "cock", from Old English coc. But because "cock" is often used as a slang term referring to the penis, this term is generally avoided for the sake of both propriety and clarity, although it remains accurate. It is replaced by synonyms: "cockerel" (which properly refers to a young male chicken) in the United Kingdom, and "rooster" (a relative neologism) in North America and Australia. "Roosting" is the action of perching aloft to sleep at night, and is actually done by both sexes. The rooster is polygamous, but cannot guard several nests of eggs at once. He guards the general area where his hens are nesting, and will attack other roosters who enter his territory. During the daytime, he often sits on a high perch, usually 4–5 feet off the ground, to serve as a lookout for his flock. He will sound a distinctive alarm call if predators are nearby.

The rooster is often (accurately) pictured in art as crowing at the break of dawn. He can often be seen sitting on fence posts or other objects, where he crows to proclaim his territory. However, a rooster might crow at any time of day, if he looks into the sun - even sometimes on a bright moonlit night. He has several other calls as well, and can cluck the same as a hen. Roosters will occasionally make a pattern following clucking sound to attract hens to a source of food.

Cultural references

The rooster is a frequent motif in Maltese idioms: the bird itself is most commonly described as prideful (mkabbar bih innifsu) and arrogant (ġellied).

"Do not forget that your father is Sicilian, cut off from one rock by another, although he was not born there; the Sicilians wake with the cock, drinking wine" (Tinsewx li missierkom Sqalli, maqtugħ mill-blata l-oħra, għal-kemm ma kontx imwieled hemm; l-Isqallin iqumu mas-serduq ilegilgu l-inbid) is one such reference from the Maltese canon. Another, "As I was leaving the streets that night I noticed your mother in the kantuniera standing like a cockrel, watching me with greedy eyes" (Jien u ħierģa l-lejla mill-isqaq nilmaħ lil ommok hemm fil-kantuniera, wieqfa qisha serduk, tħares lejja donnha trid tikolni b'għajnejha).

The traditional use of proverbs within Maltese culture and language is fundamental to "the teaching of everyday life, marriage, humanity and nature".

Jewish tradition in the Talmud alternatively refers to learning "courtesy from the cock" (eruvin 100b). This reference may be attributed to the behavior of a cock when he finds something good to eat: he calls his flock to eat first. This call is distinct from regular clucking or crowing. While giving this call, he will repeatedly pick up a morsel of food and drop it again to attract the attention of the hens. A mother hen uses a similar call and action to teach her chicks to feed. At another place in the Talmud (תלמוד בבלי מסכת ביצה דף ז עמוד א) it is said about the cock: "[...] Everything that fulfills its task at daytime, is born at daytime - this is the cock". ... And again at another place in the Talmud (תלמוד בבלי מסכת ברכות דף ז עמוד א) the cock is seen as an indicator of the short moment in the day where God could be angry and would permit the cursing of a person by another: "[...] And when is he [God] angry? - Abaye says: In [one moment of] those first three hours of the day, when the comb of the cock is white and it stands on one foot. Why, in each hour it stands thus? - In each hour it has red streaks, but in this moment it has no red streaks at all." (However, this does not seem to apply to actual biology, because a cock's comb does not change color in the morning. It might be a literary hyperbole intended to say that God does not permit cursing others, since the moment described does not actually exist. And indeed, this next story supports that view):

  • In the neighborhood of R. Joshua B. Levi there was a Sadducee who used to annoy him very much with [his interpretation of] texts. One day the Rabbi took a cock, placed it between the legs of his bed and watched it. He thought: When this moment arrives I shall curse him. When the moment arrived he was dozing. [On waking up] he said: We learn from this that it is not proper to act in such a way. ..." (The translation here is taken from the Soncino edition of the Babylonian Talmud.)

Also the Greek philosopher Socrates has an interesting connection to a cock: After he has already drunk the poison in his cell in Athens (at the end of the Platonic Dialogue Phaedo) his last words are: "Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepius. Please, don't forget to pay the debt." A Santiago de Compostela's pilgrim stopped in Barcelos and was wrongly accused of theft and sentenced to death by hanging. After appealing to Our Lady and Saint James the Great, he announced that if he was innocent, the roasted cock that the judge was about to eat would get up and crow. It did, the pilgrim was spared, and since then, brightly painted ceramic cockerels are sold throughout Portugal as symbols of good luck.

A similar story is told in the medieval carol Herod and the Cockin which a skeptical King Herod sneers that if the news of the birth of the Messiah be true, the very cock on the platter before him will come to life and crow loudly. The story is also found in some of the New Testament Apocrypha.

Some Vietnamese refer to the cock by extending their thumb from a fist, then bringing that fist to the crown of the head while moving in an arcing motion toward the base of the head. This action symbolizes the power the cock holds in the Vietnamese culture. During the Tet (New Year's) Festival feathers from the cock are used to sweep out evil and bring joy and peace in with the new year.


A capon is a castrated rooster. In this procedure the testes of the rooster are completely removed; a surgical procedure is required for this as its sexual organs are not external (most birds do not possess a penis, however roosters have a small penis to facilitate mating). As a result of this procedure certain male physical characteristics will develop, but stunted:

  • The comb and wattles cease growing after castration, so the head of a capon looks small.
  • The hackle, tail and saddle feathers grow unusually long.

Caponization also affects the disposition of the bird. Removal of the bird's testes eliminates the male sex hormones, lessening the male sex instincts and changing their behaviour: the birds become more docile and less active and tend not to fight.

This procedure produces a unique type of poultry meat which is favoured by a specialized market. The meat of normal uncastrated roosters has a tendency to become coarse, stringy and tough as the birds age. This process does not exist in the capon. As caponized roosters grow slower than entire males they accumulate more body fat; the concentration of fat in both the light and dark areas of the capon meat is greater than in that of the uncastrated males; overall, it is often thought that capon meat is more tender, juicy, and flavorful than regular chicken.

In China, the Yangbi Huang breed can grow to be the largest rooster in the Asian continent, up to 35 cm long. This is thought to be caused by the castration of the roosters practised by farmers in Northern China, which affects the hormonal balance.


A cockfight is a contest held in a ring called a cockpit between two gamecocks. Gamecocks are not typical farm chickens. The roosters are specially bred and trained for increased stamina and strength. The comb and wattle is cut off of a young gamecock because if left intact, it would be a disadvantage during a match. Sometimes they are given drugs to increase their stamina or thicken their blood, which increases their chances of winning. Cockfighting is considered a traditional sporting event by some, and an example of animal cruelty by most. Usually wagers are made on the outcome of the match, with the surviving or last-bird-standing being declared the winner. Thousands of birds are killed, maimed, or hurt during cockfights every year, while many die from alleged "conditioning" methods which include feeding the birds drugs and or having wounded animals fight for their life.

The cockerel "Waltz", when the cockerel struts in a half circle with one wing extended down, is an aggressive approach signifying to females his dominance, and usually, the female will submit by running or moving away from the cockerel in acknowledgement. On rare occasions, the hen will attempt to fight the cockerel for dominance. Once dominance is established, the cockerel will rarely waltz again. When other cockerels are in the hen yard, this waltz is used significantly more and most cockerels will waltz together if dominance has not been established, and either, one will back off or the two cockerels will fight. Note also that the cockerel will waltz again if he is taken out of the pen for a period, usually 24 hrs, and put back.

Some cockerels that are more aggressive, will drop and extend both wings and puff out all their body feathers to give the hens and/or other roosters the impression of a larger size, and charge through the hen yard like a bull


The cockerel was already of symbolic importance in Gaul at the time of the invasion of Julius Caesar and was associated with the god Lugus. Today it is an emblem of France and Wallonia.

The fighting cockerel on a ball is the symbol for Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. The cockerel wears a pair of spurs which is a reference to the club's nickname. It has been present on their crest and shield since 1901.

Additionally, the cockerel is the emblem of Turkish sports club Denizlispor, which was founded in 1966. Also, the supporters of the club are called cockerels.

Notes and references


  • Smith, P. The Chicken Book, North Point Press, 1982, passim.

See also

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