Mike the Headless Chicken


As Troy Waters, the couple’s great-grandson, relates to the rooster, stood up and began to walk about the dead chickens. As surprised as they were, Lloyd and Clara decided to put it in an apple box on the back porch, unsure what they would do about it. Little did they know that the chicken would not die for the next 18 months.

As the days passed and the bird kept working, it was named Mike or Miracle Mike the Headless Chicken. Talk spread like wildfire, and soon Lloyd was cashing in on stakes and some extra income from the show. The local newspaper was soon interviewing Olsen and journalists were flying to his small town of Fruita for snapshots of the miraculous bird. One of them suggested that the couple keep the chicken for a sideshow circuit. At its beginning, Mike was taken to the University of Utah and subjected to a series of tests. Scientists reportedly beheaded countless other chickens, but no one else survived like Mike. Soon, the headless hen was crossing the road to meet her followers. Nationwide shows what else the new pickup trucks weren’t telling their owners, to say nothing of the fame they garnered together. When the two toured the United States with sideshow promoter Hope Wade, Clara religiously documented their adventures in a scrapbook that is preserved to this day.

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Feeding Mike with a dropper.

At five and a half months old, Mike’s healthy weight was three and a half pounds. After beheading, he was fed food through a dropper. The Olsens cleared the mucus from his throat using a syringe to prevent choking. But how could a headless chicken live and roam without a brain? Over the years, research has suggested that most of Mike’s brain remained untouched, despite the trauma. This may be possible because most of a chicken’s brain is located behind the eyes, not the front of its head. Typically, beheading cuts the brain off from the rest of the body, and causes constant bleeding. The most activity a hen can manage is running around in frenzy for about 15 minutes due to the residual supply of oxygen to the spinal nerves. In the case of Miracle Mike though, fate and timing turned the physiology into a bizarre one. Not only did Mike survive the beheading, he was able to maintain nearly 80 percent of his brain and nearly everything that controls the chicken’s body, including heart rate, breathing, appetite and digestion. It was also possible that a blood clot formed at the time of the bite stopped the chicken from bleeding. In addition, birds have a secondary balance organ in the pelvic region, the lumbosacral organ, which controls walking speed. This explained how a headless chicken was able to walk and balance despite having lost the cranial vestibular system.

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Seriousness comes in strange ways, and often leaves us wanting more. Of course, Lloyd has repeatedly tried to recreate the hatchet strike on many other chickens. Strange followers and curious neighbors did too. But only Mike went down in history as a mystery. However, its imminent death was caused by human error. One night, the Olsens woke up to the sound of a suffocating bird. Looking for a syringe to clear Mike’s passage, he realized he had left the device in the sideshow. Unable to clear the mucus, the couple watched Miracle Mike starve to death after 18 months of a headless but eventful life. Years later, the life of the rooster is still celebrated in Fruita, where a statue commemorates the dismemberment of his head.

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A metal sculpture in the image of Mike in Fruta. Photo: David Herrera / Flickr



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