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Mike the Headless Chicken PBS Documentary

This video clip from a PBS documentary details the strange life of Mike the headless chicken, who lived for a year and a half after the farmer’s axe took his head in 1945.

Mike the Headless Chicken Lived for 18 Months After Beheading

Miracle Mike the Headless Chicken survived the axe and lived for 18 months without a head, eventually dying only because he choked on his dinner.

“Miracle” Mike the Headless Chicken (April 1945 – March 1947) was owned by farmer Lloyd Olsen of Fruita, Colorado. On September 10, 1945 Lloyd was sent out to the yard by his wife to get dinner. Lloyd picked a chicken and swung the axe down, chopping the its head clean off. But, much to his surprise, the chicken did not die. Without a head, it was still able to balance on a perch and walk clumsily. It even attempted to preen and crow, though it could obviously do neither without a head.

Olsen decided against finishing off the chicken. He named him Mike and began caring for him, feeding him a mixture of milk and water with an eyedropper.

Miracle Mike the Headless Chicken

Feeding Mike the Headless Chicken with an eyedropper

Once he got used to new and unusual center of mass, Mike could easily get himself to the highest perches without falling. His crowing, though, was less impressive and consisted of a gurgling sound made in his throat. Mike also spent his time preening and attempting to peck for food with his neck.

Mike began touring with sideshows, and was photographed for both Time and Life magazines. He was on display to the public for the admission price of twenty-five cents. At the height of his popularity, he was earning $4,500 a month. His success resulted in a wave of copycat chicken beheadings, but no other chicken ever lived more than a day or two.

In March 1947, at a motel in Phoenix while traveling home 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 were unable to save him.

Miracle Mike the Headless Chicken

After Mike’s death, it was determined that the axe had missed the carotid artery and a clot had prevented Mike from bleeding to death. Although 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.

Mike the headless chicken lived 18 months without his head