Onagadori – A Japanese Chicken Breed With Majestically Long Tail Feathers

The Onagadori (‘honorable fowl’ in Japanese) is a rare chicken breed known for its exceptionally long tail, which can reach over 10 meters, putting even peacocks to shame.

Of the seventeen chicken breeds considered Japanese national treasures, the Onagadori is the only one to have “special” status. Ever since it received this status in 1952, exports of Onagadori birds and eggs were forbidden, so there are very few specimens, if any, found outside of Japan today. The breed is famous for the non-molting, and thus incredibly long tails of roosters, which, if kept in the best conditions with high levels of animal husbandry, can grow for the lifetime of the bird.

Photo: Diandra Dills/Wikimedia Commons

The history of long-tailed fowl can be traced back thousands of years, but the Onagadori breed is believed to have been created in the seventeenth century, in Japan’s Tosa Province, on Shinkoku island. Its exact heritage is unknown, but experts believe that it was derived from other long-tail breeds like the Shokoku, Totenko and perhaps the Minohiki.


Onagadori roosters owe their majestic tails to a mutation of their ‘nm’ (non-molting) genes, which allows them to keep their tail feathers forever, but also to “gt” and “sg” genes which cause the rapid growth of the very same feathers.


Interestingly, Onagadori hens molt normally, while roosters never shed their tail feathers, and only shed the rest of their plumage every three years. This was actually one of the reasons European breeders didn’t really like the breed originally, because it meant that they would keep their frayed and damaged feathers for a long time instead of continually replacing them.


Because the Onagadori also had trouble adjusting to the European climate and habitat, breeders started crossing them with local breeds to keep some of the genetics of the Onagadori while making the new birds more resilient. That’s how the German Phoenix came to be. It looks very similar to the Onagadori, but molts more frequently than the Japanese fowl.


To be classified as a pure Onagadori, a rooster must have a tail of at least 1.5-meters-long. Considering that, under the right conditions, an Onagadori’s tail feathers can grow by 90 cm per year, roosters with tails measuring several meters are very common. The record currently stands at 11.3 meters.


Apart from the length of their tails, Onagadori roosters are also priced according to the number of Kawari-honge. This is a special type of feather in their tails, being the widest of them all. The number of these feathers can range from 1 to 4, so if a bird has four Kawari-honge, it is very sought-after by breeders and will thus fetch a high price.


The Onagadori breed is currently listed as endangered, with only around 250 birds being kept by 250 breeders. One of the reasons for this may be that the hens are poor egg layers (around 25 eggs per year).

The Onagadori is just one of the many fascinating chicken breeds we’ve featured here, on Oddity Central, over the years. If you’re curious about some of the rest, check out the Sebright, the Jersey giant, or the jet black Kadaknath.