For a number of years now, chickens have dotted the landscape of our little farm. When I eventually learned about the Sicilian Buttercups, I knew I found my type of chicken, and had my first chicks of that breed flown out from a hatchery in Ontario in May 2012.
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All grown up now, my Sicilian Buttercup chickens live in a small, closed, well-tended, free-ranging flock. They have a spacious customized garden shed, with window, in which to spend the night and lay their eggs, and pass those winter days too cold to go outside. Much attention is paid to keeping the birds free of parasites. I have not had external parasites on my chickens for years, and keep a rigorous worming schedule, because the bird free range. Fertility and hatchability in my small flock has been very good, and the chicks are very lively and healthy.The hens lay beautiful, medium-sized, white eggs which also make delicious table eggs.
Sicilian Buttercup Eggs
The Sicilian Buttercup chicken is an American breed once praised as a layer of plenty, large, white table eggs. However, the breed never became a household name. Today, returning from the brink of extinction, the birds are kept for ornamental purpose. The stock available in North America is now much smaller in body size than they once were, and hens lay smaller eggs than they once did. My hens are very uniform and each hen consistently lays 4 eggs per week, each weighing between 43 and 45 grams. Hens in their second year lay eggs up to 50 grams
Sicilian Buttercup History
Chickens similar to the Sicilian Buttercup, or Buttercup for short, made their first appearance in North America in the late 19th. century on board of a ship bringing oranges from Sicily to the USA (most likely Boston, NY). The birds were intended as provision. During the journey, however, some of them proved themselves as very good layers and, instead of being eaten, were sold and found a new home in Massachusetts,  where they came to be known as “Flower Birds” , most likely due to the duplex comb in the shape of a flower (cup). The breed we know today, however, originates with hatching eggs  / hatchlings  imported in 1892. The “Erhaltungszuchtverein für sizilianische Hühnerrassen” in Germany (the club for the preservation of Sicilian poultry breeds) puts it a little different, in that it describes, that today’s Buttercup population in North America goes back to imports SINCE 1892 , agreeing that today’s Buttercups don’t trace their lineage back to the original “Flower Birds”, but does not rule out additional importations after 1892.
The Buttercup is closely related to the indigenous Siciliana breed of Sicily, a breed created most likely hundreds of years ago by crossing the then local stock from Sicily with birds brought from North Africa  like the Egyptian Dandarawi . While the Buttercup is known only as one variety here in North America, the Siciliana comes in an assortment of colours, ranging from black breasted red, black, blue, and white. In the USA, the Buttercup had its début among fanciers in December of 1913 (100 years ago!) at the Palace Show of the Empire Poultry Association in New York. It was announced as a “new breed of chicken to attract many poultry fanciers.” It was rivaling the White Leghorns and Rhode Island Reds in the show for first place and as prolific layer of very good health. Interestingly, it was described as a cross breed imported from Sicily . A hybrid? Would that explain its outstanding qualities as egg layer? Or did they mean a mutt? It was admitted into the American Poultry Association Standard of Perfection in 1918 . In 1928 the Buttercup’s Standard of Perfection was changed. Because the Buttercup was classified as a member of the Mediterranean Class, white ear lobes now became essential . However, even today, pure-bred birds don’t always display white or all white ear lobes, which is sometimes falsely interpreted as a sign that the bird comes from a line which was out-crossed to a different breed.
Like its Siciliana relative, the new Buttercup was known as an excellent layer and as a healthy, robust, early maturing bird without inclination to go broody. It was not long, however, that the new Buttercup underwent “improvements” in its new home. The birds were made bigger from the original stock, with more pronounced sickles in the male and an overall more elegant appearance. The necessary outcrossing for these attributes may have cost the Buttercup some of its original qualities, like the extraordinary vitality of the chicks, the early maturity of the cockerels, and the early point of lay for pullets.
Improving the Buttercup may be directly linked to several studies done in the 1930 (see Genetics of the Fowl by F.B. Hutt) relating attainment of marketable egg size in pullets (2 oz./57 gram) to age of first egg and body weight. It was proven that pullets which matured sexually early and well before reaching their mature body weight laid under-sized eggs for longer than late maturing birds, which were older at first egg, but attained marketable eggs size faster. The Buttercup was intended as a commercial bird alongside White Leghorns and Rhode Island Reds, and the reason for its improvement may be rooted in egg size. Although the Buttercup traces its origin to Sicily, the breed, as we know it today, was technically created in the United States and should more aptly be called “American Buttercup”. While the birds may have changed since their arrival, the unique spangled colour did not and was preserved in the American birds when it went extinct in the country of the birds’ origin .
A club for the new breed, The American Buttercup Club, was formed in 1912, but interest in the breed suffered neglect  until it was nearly gone 30 years later . Today, the Buttercup is among the rarest breeds of poultry . The Buttercups from the USA found many fanciers in England since 1912, where the breeding of different colours of Buttercups commenced, including a silver variety. Around 1929 show entries of Buttercups was high, and Buttercups participated in laying performance tests in the 1960s. The Buttercups rate of lay in winter was particularly prized. New imports from Italy gave rise to new colour variations, which were even entered into the standard as the new breed “Flower Birds”, only to disappear again. Today, the Buttercup in England is critically endangered .
Whether or not the Augsburger Huhn, a rare chicken breed from Bavaria, is in some way related to the Buttercup or Siciliana is unknown. It is interesting to note that the Staufer (House of Hohenstaufen), a dynasty of German monarchs in the Middle Ages, were granted kingdom over Sicily in 1194. Their seat was just kilometers away from the city of Augsburg. However, the black Augsburger Huhn with a Buttercup comb is said to have been developed in the late 18th. century by crossing the French Le Fleche with the Lamotta from Italy.
The Buttercup should have a weight of 6 ½ lbs. for males (5 ½ for cockerels) and 5 lbs. for females (4 lbs. for pullets). This makes it bigger than its ancestor, the Siciliana, for which the standard in Italy describes 4 ½ – 5 lbs. for males and 3 ½ – 4 lbs. for females .
The Buttercup chicken derives its name from the combination of unique comb shape and the golden buff color of the hen’s plumage. The comb of the Buttercup chicken is actually two single-combs, called a duplex comb, that merge in front and at the back. On the best specimens the two combs form a cup-shaped “crown” with regularly spaced medium-sized points. For this, the birds are called “Krohnenkämme” in Germany, or Crown-combs.
Buttercups display sexual dimorphism in the colour of the male vs. the female. The rooster is a rich reddish orange with a iridescent green black tail. He has some black markings on his primaries and may have spangles on his thighs and breast. The hen’s body is golden buff with intricately marked with small black spangles running in pairs along the length of each feather, except on those of the head, front and back of the neck, and the cape. The main tail feathers have complex colouring reminding of leopard spots or tiger stripes. Some say, Buttercup hens resemble Ringneck Pheasant hens. Both male and female have yellow skin, white ear lobes (in the US standard, but red in the British), and willow-green legs. The hen’s lay white eggs, sometimes with an ivory tint.
This is a very active breed best kept with access to a lot of space. They are independent and forage well, but are very friendly and curious when handled gently. As a Mediterranean breed they lack body size and sufficient feathering to keep warm without protection in cold weather. Large combs on roosters need to be protected from frost bite by keeping the temperature inside the coop above freezing.
 Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sicilian_Buttercup
Gallina Siciliana http://www.gallinasiciliana.altervista.org/Peppe_tasso/Gallinasiciliana.html
 Feathersite http://www.feathersite.com/Poultry/CGA/BCup/BRKButtercup.html
[4}Erhaltungszuchtverein für sizilianische Hühnerrassen http://www.sizilianer.info/index.html
 article: Buttercup Fowls … inique and rare by Luuk Hans for Aviculture-Europe
 The New York Times http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?_r=1&res=9500E6D6133FE633A2575AC0A9679D946296D6CF
 American Buttercup Club http://americanbuttercupclub.com/home
Our Sicilian Buttercups photo album. Click on the thumbnail to see larger image:
Our Sicilian Buttercups videos