The bird's feathers are rust-colored, but darker shades are known, including maroon bordering on black. Their eyes are red-orange and they have yellow feet, with reddish-brown beaks. Chicks are a light red to tan color with two dark brown bars running down their backs. The Roosters usually weigh in at 8.5 pounds (3.9 kg), the Hens slightly less at 6.5 pounds (2.9 kg), cockerel at 7.5 pounds (3.4 kg), and pullets at 5.5 pounds (2.5 kg).
Developed in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, early flocks often had both single and rose combed individuals because of the influence of Malay blood. It was from the Malay that the Rhode Island Red got its deep color, strong constitution, and relatively hard feathers.
The Rhode Island Red was originally bred in Adamsville, a village which is part of Little Compton, Rhode Island. One of the foundation sires of the breed was a black-breasted red Malay cock which was imported from England. This cock is on display at the Smithsonian Institution as the father of the Rhode Island Red breed.
In 1925, the Rhode Island Red Club of America donated funds for an elegant monument to the Rhode Island Red in Adamsville, near the baseball field and across the street from what used to be Abraham Manchester's restaurant. (The monument is now on the National Register of Historic Places.) A competing monument to the Rhode Island Red, claiming its creation not for the poultry fanciers, but for the farmers who grew them commercially in great numbers in Little Compton, was erected by the state in 1954 a mile or so (about two kilometers) south of Adamsville.
Rhode Island Reds and Sussex are also used for many modern hybrid breeds. Many modern hybrid hens have Rhode Island Red fathers, mainly due to the prolific egg laying characteristic of the Rhode Island Red, which is passed down through the males.
The Reds are friendly chickens with a good nature. They are very good pets for children, but they can get angry when annoyed.
Rhode Island Reds are tough birds, resistant to illness, good at foraging and free ranging, and typically docile, quiet, and friendly. Although they are widely known as good layers through cold periods, if the coop temperature drops below freezing (0 °C (32 °F)), their output drops considerably, and the tips of their combs become very susceptible to frostbite.
Although usually friendly, Rhode Island Red roosters, and sometimes hens, can be quite aggressive towards young children and adults. Most roosters will also attack strangers (humans or animals) if they feel nervous or have never seen the intruder. They are usually friendlier with familiar people, such as those responsible for feeding. Both hens and roosters are known to be aggressive with other chickens, especially in confinement.
Rhode Island Reds are excellent egg layers. Although they can sometimes be stubborn, they can end up producing up to 250 to 300 large, light to dark brown eggs per year. When free ranged, their first year eggs can be too large to fit comfortably in a standard or medium egg carton. Nine hens can lay up to 6-7 eggs per day depending on their conditions of care and treatment.