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The Sicilian Buttercup: A Rare Breed Chicken with Royal Appearance

These alert and lively birds are quite beautiful with a most unusual buttercup comb shape. The roosters and hens have entirely different feather patterns, hens being spangled, while the males have a typical red rooster feathering. They also possess unusual willow green legs and feet.

Key Takeaway

  • Rare breed
  • Double cup shape comb
  • Active
  • Non-sitter
  • White egg layer

Background & History of the breed

The exact origins of the Sicilian Buttercup are not precisely known. Birds with the same comb shape have been found on the Mediterranean island of Sicily for centuries, and the American Poultry Association agrees that the breed originates from Sicily. 

However, there is evidence to suggest that further back, these fowl may have originated somewhere else, North Africa to be exact. This was suggested by Reverend Ray Trudgian, who tells a tale of following the sound of a crowing rooster while in Bethlehem. On finding the bird, he saw a flock of what appeared to be Sicilian Buttercups, being closely guarded by dogs. 

In the book “Modern Poultry Development,” published in 1976, the Author Easom Smith states that Buttercups originated in North Africa and were taken to Mediterranean countries by Arabs who visited them. This is how they found their way to Europe from Sicily. 

Fowl with the same shaped double comb can be found both in North Africa and Europe, but it is fair to say that the American version known as the Sicilian Buttercup came to the U.S. from Sicily. 

The exact chicken breeds used to create the Sicilian Buttercup are a mystery, but it is known that cross-breeding was very common among Mediterranean chicken breeds.

On Sicily, birds with a cup-shaped double comb and green legs, both distinctive traits of the Sicilian Buttercup, had been bred for many generations.

Arriving in America

It is thought that Buttercups first arrived in America from Sicily around 1835, although records also show that the Buttercups found in the U.S. today almost certainly descend from a hatching that arrived in 1892.

The first properly documented information about Buttercups in America dates from 1860 when Captain Dawes from Dedham in Massachusetts gave his neighbor, a C. Carroll Loring, some birds he had. As Loring liked the birds and was interested in breeding more, he imported new breeding stock from Sicily and continued to promote the breed for around 50 years.

Despite Loring’s great efforts to promote the Sicilian Buttercup, they didn’t enjoy any real success until 1908, when two more breeders, Mr. L. B. Audigier from Knoxville, Tennessee, and Mr. J. S. Dumaresq from Easton, Maryland, took an interest in them. Their success was achieved through Mr. Audigier’s publication was called “Industrious Hen,” where they were touted as a superior utility breed despite only producing an average number of eggs. 

By 1912 a breed club was created that gained over 300 members, and many shows had large classes of Sicilian Buttercups. Sadly, this popularity was to be short-lived.

Today the Sicilian Buttercup is very rarely seen at shows, and it is different from the birds now found on the island of Sicily, which are called “Siciliana.” There are only a small handful of other birds in the world with the same type of comb as the Sicilian Buttercup.

This old heritage breed is currently endangered and is on the Livestock Conservancy Organizations’ “Watch” list.

Temperament and Behavior of the Sicilian Buttercup

The Buttercup is a very active, alert, and flighty breed that likes to forage and free-range. They are not well adapted to living life in a small coop.

Some people refer to them as being “squirrel-tailed” due to their high-strung nature, which is fairly typical of many Mediterranean breeds. With their crown and high carriage, they appear quite royal when strutting around the yard.

Providing they are well handled as young chicks, they can become reasonably friendly but never truly tame. This means they aren’t a great choice for kids or even new chicken keepers as they are also non-broody and can be rather noisy.

Breed Specifics and Traits of the Sicilian Buttercup

They were bred for egg production as they are not heavily muscled, although roosters do reach a good size and can make reasonable meat birds. What they really have going for them is their looks, and they make excellent show birds providing you have good specimens. They were admitted into the American Poultry Associations standards in 1918. 

Size – Buttercups are medium size birds with roosters weighing around 6.5 lbs, while hens reach closer to 5 lbs. Bantam versions also exist and were admitted into the American Poultry Association in 1960. 

Chicks – Baby chicks are golden yellow with patches of dark brown and black. They often feature a distinctive pale gold ring around their eyes, which gives them the appearance of wearing something akin to superhero masks. 

Male and female chicks can be distinguished quickly, as within just a few weeks, the male comb starts becoming more developed than the female. 

Legs and Feet – Although adult Buttercups have willow green legs, produced from the slate grey/blue or coloration mixed with their yellow skin, the chicks are born with yellow legs that begin turning green when they are between four and six months old.

Comb – The comb of the Sicilian Buttercup is the most distinguishing feature. The proper shape of the comb should be double with regularly spaced points of medium size. It is formed in a cup shape which is why it is called a buttercup comb. It looks like a crown or a flower; this is why they are often called “flower birds.” The cup should be joined at each end, forming a rounded shape. 

Unfortunately, a joined cup is a trait that is quickly lost if breeding is not done quite carefully. The comb is often split at each end, which is not wanted, and some even become deformed enough to look more like antlers.

In the United States, only the Sicilian Buttercup has this type of comb. They are incredibly rare, although a few other breeds do have them around the world.

In the male bird, the comb is large and very crown-like, while in the female, it is much smaller, although identical in shape and form.

It isn’t only the Sicilian Buttercups’ unusual comb that distinguishes it from other breeds of chicken. The color pattern of the Sicilian Buttercup hen is unique and quite beautiful. 

Hens Plumage – Hens are a golden-buff color with hackle feathers that are a shimmering golden color running down their necks. The remaining body feathers all have small, black, oval-shaped spangles running across them diagonally. 

Some less well-bred hens have black markings on their neck feathers too, but this is not a desirable trait. The pure golden hackles should contrast dramatically with the dark spangles in the rest of their plumage.

Roosters Plumage – Buttercup roosters, have the coloration of a typical red rooster and look just like one except for the double buttercup comb and green legs. The hackles and saddle feathers are bright orangey-red. The plumage on the body and breast is darker, giving a strong contrast. The tail feathers are iridescent beetle green/black.

Males and females both have willow green legs and toes, but the underside of their feet is yellow like the skin on their bodies.

Eyes, Wattles, and Beak – The eyes are a reddish bay, and the comb and wattles are red with white earlobes and a horn colored beak.

Shape – Their bodies are a long, smooth shape and hens have a deep abdomen. The line along their back is long and smooth from neck to tail. The transition from back to tail should also be smooth but is often sharply angled, which is less preferable. The tail fans out widely and has a well-spread base.

The American Poultry Association’s breed standard was written to promote the productiveness of the bird and not necessarily its beauty. This is why the color and markings are not as important in the breed standard as the body shape.

In many chicken breeds, the color of the male and female are the same; this is not the case with Buttercups, where they are distinctly different. This is a trait called “sexual dimorphism.”

Climate Tolerance – Although the Sicilian Buttercup does very well in warm climates, they are not cold tolerant and will require very special care in cooler areas.

Health and Disease

Sicilian Buttercups don’t have any specific diseases attributed to them and are relatively healthy birds. 

As with all chicken breeds, care must be taken to keep them free from lice, mites, and worms and provide them with the correct food for their age and function. 

Water should always be supplied ad-lib and be clean and fresh. 

Suitable housing with good ventilation must also be provided.


Hens will lay eggs during the warmer spring and summer months and then stop laying during fall and winter. Pullets born the previous year will typically start laying the following spring.

Buttercups lay white eggs of a small to medium size. They are not very prolific layers but do lay regularly. The number of eggs they produce averages at around 100 per year. This will decline as they get older, although egg size will become slightly larger. 

Where to Get Your Sicilian Buttercups

Because they are a rare breed, and because they can be tricky to breed with all the right traits, particularly a closed comb, many hatcheries don’t stock them. Those that do may not have very good specimens if you want to show them. 

The best way of getting hold of good quality stock is to contact specialist breeders. A couple of which can be found on the American Buttercup Clubs pages.  

If you don’t want to show the birds but simply keep them as free-range egg layers, then baby chicks can be sourced from a hatchery such as McMurray’s at certain times of the year.

Please note that pricing information is only given as a guide, as it may change at any time. Availability is dependent on the hatchery, and purchase is usually subject to a minimum quantity set by them.  

Unsexed – 1 to 5 = $5.09, 6 to 15 = $4.84, 16 to 24 = $4.60, 25 plus = $4.37

Female – 1 to 5 = $6.31, 6 to 15 = $6.00, 16 to 24 = $5.70, 25 plus = $5.41

Male – 1 to 5 = $3.98, 6 to 15 = $3.78 16 to 24 = $3.59, 25 plus = $3.41


If you fancy helping to secure the future of a rare breed and would like a chicken that isn’t only attractive to look at but lays nice white eggs, then the Sicilian Buttercup could be for you.

They thrive best when free-range and are not really suitable for more urban areas due to their flightiness and noise level. 

Although they can be friendly, they are unlikely to be tamed, and if you wish to hatch out eggs, you’ll most probably need a broody hen of another breed or an incubator.

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the Sicilian Buttercup. There are articles on a large number of other chicken breeds available on our website.

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