Mike the Headless Chicken (April 1945 – March 1947), also known as Miracle Mike, was a Wyandotte chicken that lived for 18 months after his head had been cut off. Although the story was thought by many to be a hoax, the bird’s owner took him to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City to establish the facts.
On September 10, 1945, farmer Lloyd Olsen of Fruita, Colorado, United Stares, was planning to eat supper with his mother-in-law and was sent out to the yard by his wife to bring back a chicken. Olsen chose a five-and-a-half-month-old cockerel named Mike. The axe left him with no brain but missed the jugular vein, leaving one ear and most of the brain stem intact.
Despite Olsen’s failed attempt to behead Mike, Mike was still able to balance on a perch and walk clumsily. He attempted to preen, peck for food, and crow, though with limited success; his “crowing” consisted of a gurgling sound made in his throat.
When Mike did not die, Mr. Olsen decided to continue to care permanently for the bird. He fed it a mixture of milk and water via an eyedropper, and gave it small grains of corn.
Once his fame had been established, Mike began a career of touring sideshows in the company of such other creatures as a two-headed calf. He was also photographed for dozens of magazines and papers, featuring in Time and Life magazines.
Mike was on display to the public for an admission cost of twenty five cents. At the height of his popularity, the chicken earned US $4,500 per month ($47,500 today) and was valued at $10,000.
In March 1947, at a motel in on a stopover while traveling back from tour, Mike started choking in the middle of the night. The Olsens had inadvertently left their feeding and cleaning syringes at the sideshow the day before, and so were unable to save Mike. Olsen claimed that he had sold the bird off, resulting in stories of Mike still touring the country as late as 1949. Other sources say that the chicken’s severed trachea could not properly take in enough air to be able to breathe, and it therefore choked to death in the motel.
It was determined that the axe had missed the jugular vein and a clot had prevented Mike from bleeding to death. Although most of his head was severed, most of his brain stem and one ear were left on his body. Since basic functions (breathing, heart rate, etc.) as well as most of a chicken’s reflex actions are controlled by the brain stem, Mike was able to remain quite healthy. This is a good example of central motor generators enabling basic homeostatic functions to be carried out in the absence of the cerebral cortex.
Mike the Headless Chicken is now an institution in Fruita, Colorada, with an annual “Mike the Headless Chicken Day”, the third weekend of May, starting in 1999. Events held include the “5K Run Like a Headless Chicken Race”, egg toss, “Pin the Head on the Chicken”, the “Chicken Cluck-Off”, and “Chicken Bingo”, in which chicken droppings on a numbered grid choose the numbers.
Mike the Headless Chicken was an inspiration for the poultry-themed comedy punk band The Radioactive Chickenheads, serving as the subject of their 2008 song “Headless Mike”, for which a music video was filmed. The band also features a Headless Mike puppet which is frequently used in their live shows. There are grounds for introducing similar events to Stormont