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Main Content

Backyard Poultry’s Rare Beauties

Chicken Rare Breeds: Phoenix, Ancona, and Redcap

By Jeannette Beranger 

Chickens are among the feathered jewels of the animal kingdom. Their humble roots began approximately 5,000 years ago with the brightly colored red jungle fowl from Asia that were domesticated to become the birds we know today. History indicates that they were originally kept as fighting fowl but over time they also became one of the most useful sources of food on the planet. They come in all sorts of colors, shapes and sizes, and to narrow down the choices down to a single favorite is nearly impossible for many. What I find equally intriguing are the stories of how and why the breeds were developed as they spread across the globe over the centuries. They’ve conquered every continent barring Antarctica (for the sake of protecting penguins.) They are more numerous than any other species of livestock on the planet, and the recent renaissance of the backyard chicken has made them more popular than ever. Here are just a few of the exciting rare breeds that could adorn your chicken coop.

Phoenix Chickens


Thanks to The Livestock Conservancy for this photo.


Phoenix chickens are eye-catching birds that were created to be an avian work of elegance and beauty. The roosters are ornamented with luxurious tails that fall onto the ground and are carried like the cathedral train of a royal monarch reaching two to five feet in length behind the bird. The breed was developed from German imports of Japanese long-tailed fowl known as Onagadori. In Japan, the Onagadori are revered as a national treasure with tails that can reach 12-27 feet long. For the Germans, the birds proved to be very delicate with few surviving the journey overseas in the early 20th century. In an attempt to improve the outlook for remaining long tails in Germany, the Phoenix breed was developed from crosses with imported birds by the first president of the National German Poultry Association, Mr. Hugo du Roi. The name “Phoenix” is speculated as a reference to the breed being developed from the “ashes” of what was to be the end of the Onagadori fowl in Germany. The Phoenix is often compared to pheasants in appearance but have a more calm nature, especially when handled at an early age. They require a high-protein diet in order for them to grow their long feathers properly. As adults, they should have high perches in the coop to ensure the least amount of damage to their long tails. They are active foragers and you are guaranteed a fine show in watching them explore your backyard.



 Thanks to The Livestock Conservancy for this photo.


If you had access to early poultry journals from the 20th century, you would no doubt notice that one of the premier eggs layers of the time was the Ancona. The breed’s origin can be traced to the region around the Italian port of Ancona along the Adriatic Sea. The birds are black with dramatic yet delicate white mottling, ideally tipping one out of every five feathers on their bodies. They are found in both a single comb and in a rose comb variety. The Ancona is known as a very active and thrifty bird, always on the alert for predators as they forage. In its heyday, the breed was touted the best layer in the winter and in the cold. Despite the fame, many white egg layers like the Ancona eventually lost market as American tastes shifted toward brown eggs later in the century. Today the Ancona is in need of new stewards and to be appreciated as they once were. In the words of breeder James L. Hendry, “Now, brother man, don’t be a chump – open your eyes and see; Get a great big hunch, buy a speckled bunch, and be happy then, like me.





Thanks to The Livestock Conservancy for this photo.


The Redcap is one of the oldest of the British breeds and considered an iconic farmyard chicken “with a very high reputation amongst those who knew them as useful fowl.” Also known as the Derbyshire Redcap, their heads are adorned with one of the most elaborate combs of any chicken breed. It can be described as a rose comb that is large and wide and gives the birds a noble appearance as if carrying a crown upon its head. They have been known as reliable layers and fine table birds with tender and delicate meat and great eggs for would be-pastry chefs. Redcaps do not enjoy being overcrowded so a spacious coop and plenty of freedom to forage would be recommended. 

If you are considering any of these breeds for your coop, remember they are rare. Your best opportunity for finding them is to contact a breed club. Otherwise, visit a local poultry show or contact the American Poultry Association, The Livestock Conservancy, or the Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities. For more information visit: 

The Livestock Conservancy 

American Poultry Association 

American Phoenix Breeders Club 

Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities 


Phoenix Chickens