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Fowl vs Chicken: What’s the Difference?

When you are raising chickens or any farm-type animal, you may find yourself encountering interesting and confusing jargon. For example, there are some chicken keepers who may refer to their chickens as fowl. That raises a question: Is there a key difference between a fowl and a chicken? How should you refer to your egg-laying ladies?

It’s time to do a terminology deep dive into the differences between fowl vs chicken. Let’s get started.


What Does “Fowl” Mean?

According to the dictionary, a fowl is a suborder of birds known as Galliformes, which includes turkeys, quail, pheasant, partridges, and chickens. Fowl is also a kind of bird that is kept or hunted for food. Galliformes are not the only birds that fit into this, however. Anseriformes, also known as waterfowl, are part of this. As such, ducks, swans, and geese can sometimes be considered fowl when hunted or kept for their meat and eggs.

Keep in mind that Galliformes and Anseriformes are two different biological orders of fowl. Each group has its unique morphological, anatomical, and DNA sequences.

In other words, do not assume that ducks and chickens are related! Also, here is a fun fact: Although ostriches can be domesticated and used for eggs, they are not part of the landfowl category. You cannot call an ostrich a fowl. It might get offended.

Let’s not forget that, long ago, fowl was the archaic term for any bird.

What Does “Chicken” Mean?

Chickens are defined as a “type of domesticated fowl that is scientifically named Gallus gallus domesticus.” Interestingly, chickens were originally a subspecies of junglefowl, but they are now so widespread and come in hundreds of breeds. Many chickens have been bred in Europe, but there are others created in North America and Asia. Right now, it is believed that there are over 22 billion chickens around the world. That is a huge population of feathered friends!

In fact, more chickens exist today than any other domestic fowl or bird. Humans are partially responsible for this overpopulation of chickens.

Chicken is also a genderless term that refers to a species of landfowl. When you say chicken, you could be talking about a male or female chicken. That is why hen is used for female chickens, and rooster describes the males.

What’s The Difference Between Fowl vs Chicken?

guinea fowl

The main point to takeaway from knowing what both “fowl” and “chicken” means is that fowl encompasses more than just chickens. When you are talking about fowl, you could be referencing any kind of landfowl or waterfowl.

When someone says chicken, they are talking about one species of domestic fowl that is raised for eggs and meat.

You can call a chicken a fowl, but you cannot always call a fowl a chicken. Unless you are calling it a coward.

Can Fowl Be Poultry or Game?

Now that you have investigated the differences between fowl vs chicken, let’s discuss a couple other terms. Poultry and game are two terms that show up when discussing chickens and other fowl. Essentially, there are some fowl that can be considered poultry, and a lot of poultry is also considered game.

Poultry includes all kinds of domestic fowl that are kept on farms for food. Some examples include chickens, guinea fowl, turkeys, geese, ducks, and quails.

However, there are some fowl that are not poultry but game. Usually, game is not domesticated, and they are often found and hunted in fields and forests. These are animals that can be legally hunted, including quail, ducks, turkeys, and partridges. Game also refers to non-feathered animals, such as deer.

Defining The Word “Poultry”

Fowl, chicken, and poultry are often used when describing the same animal. There is not much of a difference between fowl vs chicken and fowl vs poultry. However, again, poultry is a cloud term that covers more than just chickens. Poultry is used to describe any domesticated bird that humans keep for their feathers, meat, eggs, or whatever else. Usually, poultry is used only for those members of the Galloanserae or Galliformes family.

Do note, though, the poultry can include more than chickens and other fowls. A pigeon that is killed for food may be considered poultry, but it is neither a chicken or a fowl.

Now, to make this confusing, fowl can be poultry or game, as can a chicken, but poultry does not include wild birds that are hunted for sport.

The Difference Between Fowl vs Broiler Chicken

The term “broiler” gets tossed around a lot when talking about the kinds of chickens people raise. A broiler is a kind of chicken that is bred for the sole purpose of using its meat. These breeds tend to pack on a lot of weight quickly, so they can be turned into food. Broiler chickens are what becomes the poultry that you buy at the grocery store.

As mentioned previously, a fowl can be a broiler chicken, as fowls are domesticated birds kept for their eggs and meat.

What Does “Fowl Meat” Refer To Then?

game birds

If you are shopping at the grocery store and you come upon a package of “fowl meat,” you may be taken aback. Assume that you have found a pack of meat that comes from some kind of fowl — chicken, turkey, geese, duck, guinea fowl, for example — or a mixture of several. Fowl meat may also include game fowl, too.

Should you go hunting and take home a wild turkey, quail, and pheasant, then have that meat processed, you could call it fowl meat.

Final Thoughts on Fowl vs Chicken

So now you know that fowl are a kind of suborder of birds that include both landfowl and waterfowl. Chickens are considered to be a part of the fowl family, because they are related to turkeys and other similar birds. Therefore, you can call your chicken a fowl, but a fowl is not always a chicken. You may see fowl in reference to other animals, especially when hunting or looking up poultry recipes.