Chicken walking

In the early 40s, a very special chicken entered the annals of poultry history: Mike, the miraculous bird that refused to die after being beheaded.

Mike broke the unlikely record as the longest surviving headless chicken, having managed to survive for a whole 18 months without a head. 

Mike’s incredible story begins on 10 September 1945 at the farm of Lloyd and Clara Olsen in Fruita, Colorado.

"During the 40’s many farmers supplemented their rations with selling eggs, milk, chicken, and preserving food," explains Mike's official page. "The Olsens were no different and were preparing a batch of 40-50 chickens for market. Lloyd would cut heads and Clara would pluck and clean the chickens."

Mike was one of the many male Wyandotte chickens that roamed in the farm’s yard and - as it turned out - he had no intention of becoming anybody’s dinner. 

Despite its head being chopped off, the animal went on living for over a year.

Although it's rather normal for chickens to run around for a few minutes after being beheaded, Mike was still very much alive hours after the attempted murder. 

The amazed couple kept the animal safely on the front porch for the night and the morning after, once he stepped onto the patio, Olsen realized that Mike was still alive.

That was the beginning of Miraculous Mike’s improbable journey across the States. 

A producer named Hope Wade scouted Mike, and encouraged the couple to take the bird to the University of Utah to solve the mystery of the headless chicken. 

But how was Mike still alive? 

As it turned out, when Olsen swung the axe, he inadvertently spared the part of Mike's brain responsible for essential functions like breathing and digestion.

According to BBC and Dr Tom Smulders, Director of Education and Reader in Evolutionary Neuroscience at Newcastle University, Mike’s survival isn’t that hard to explain. 

“The brain is mostly concentrated at the back of the skull, behind the eyes of the chicken,” reports the expert to BBC. 

“Reports indicate that Mike's beak, face, eyes and ear were removed with the hatchet blow. But Smulders estimates that up to 80% of his brain by mass - and almost everything that controls the chicken's body, including heart rate, breathing, hunger and digestion - remained untouched.”

After the cut, a blood clump prevented him from bleeding to death – a lucky coincidence that created the perfect situation for Mike to survive. 

Although it’s an almost unique occurrence, the coincidence between the lucky blow and the quick blood clot allowed Mike to survive the otherwise mortal wound.

Image by Unsplash

After that, Olsen took care of the chicken by carefully feeding the animal water and liquid food via an eyedropper.

For Mike’s well-being, it was also immensely important to clear mucus from his throat. The operation was performed regularly thanks to a syringe.

Thanks to his unlikely survival, Mike became a sensation: his story was featured in newspapers all around the world, and it was recognized as the longest surviving headless chicken in history.

Olsen started touring the United States with "Miracle Mike", and the animal became a true attraction, being photographed by magazines of the calibre of Time and Life

The family toured California and Arizona with roadshows and Mike was displayed to the public for a fee (25 cents, roughly equalling a modern $3). 

The popularity of Mike continued to grow: according to Wikipedia, the unique pet - now a star - was valued at $10,000 (equivalent to $131,100 in 2022).

The bird sadly passed one fateful night in a motel in Phoenix, Arizona. 

On the night of 17 March 1947, Olsen was woken up by the noises of a bird choking but couldn't act in time to save the poor chicken.

To this day, in remembrance of the curious case of the headless bird, a "Mike the Headless Chicken Day" is held every first week of June in Fruita, Colorado. 

As Mike’s story continues to amaze, it’s undoubted that his record will remain one of the most bizarre titles in the history of Guinness World Records.

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