Miracle Mike: The Story of the Chicken That Lived for 18 Months Without a Head

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Mike the Headless Chicken (April 20, 1945 – March 17, 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.

Mike the headless chicken, October 1945. According to some accounts, the day the ax fell, Mike slept with his head under his wing. (Photo: Bob Landry—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

On September 10, 1945, farmer Lloyd Olsen of Fruita, Colorado, 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 Wyandotte chicken named Mike. The axe removed the bulk of the head, but missed the jugular vein, leaving one ear and most of the brain stem intact.

Lloyd Olsen and his wife, Clara, at their farm in Fruita. Their name is famous in town, which hosts a festival for the Olsens’ headless chicken that lived in 1945. (Photo courtesy Troy Waters)

Due to Olsen’s failed attempt to behead Mike, the chicken 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, Olsen instead decided to care for the bird. He fed it a mixture of milk and water via an eyedropper, and gave it small grains of corn and worms.

Once his fame had been established, Mike began a career of touring sideshows in the company of such other creatures as a two-headed baby. He was also photographed for dozens of magazines and papers, and was featured in Time and Life magazines. Mike was put on display to the public for an admission cost of 25 cents. At the height of his popularity, the chicken’s owner earned US$4,500 per month ($50,500 today); Mike was valued at $10,000.

Mike the headless chicken “dances” in 1945. (Photo: Bob Landry—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Mike the headless chicken stands atop a lawn mower in Fruita, Colorado, 1945. (Photo: Bob Landry—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Mike the headless chicken in his Colorado barnyard, with fellow chickens, 1945. (Photo: Bob Landry—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Mike the headless chicken rests in the grass in 1945. (Photo: Bob Landry—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

In March 1947, at a motel in Phoenix on a stopover while traveling back from tour, Mike started choking in the middle of the night. He had managed to get a kernel of corn in his throat. 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.

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