Day 467: The Birds Are The Words

originally published April 11, 2013

I’d like to dedicate today’s article to my lovely wife, whose hatred of birds has spanned most of her life, and will no doubt follow her to her grave. It didn’t help when a filthy raven tumbled through the sunroof of her Mini Cooper while she was waiting at a stoplight a few years ago. That’s the kind of psychological trauma that can leave thick, craggly scars along the surface of a person’s brain.

While I don’t expect she’ll soften her stance even slightly with today’s piece, I’m hoping she’ll still appreciate some of the more interesting bird tales from around the webosphere.

If nothing else, she’ll love the first one, which involves a sizable cap getting popped in the ass of a rather obnoxious ornithological butt-face.

We begin with the Domino Day 2005 Sparrow. Domino Day is an annual gathering in the Netherlands of some of the most patient and sure-handed people in the world, who stack dominoes in elaborate designs so that they topple one another in the most spectacular fashion possible. Every year, these dedicated dominoers… dominizers?… dominatrixes?… not sure what the right word is here… anyway, they gather in the Netherlands to set the World Record for most fallen dominoes. In 2005, they had to top four million to break the previous year’s record. So when a small house sparrow flew in through a window four days before the big event, people got worried.

The sparrow landed on a few domino bricks, causing them to fall. Which caused others to fall. Which caused… well, you know how this works. Panicked organizers called in Duke Faunabeheer, a local company that… I guess a company that safeguards professional domino events. Anyway, they tried using nets and sticks to shoo the bird outside, but nothing worked. So one of the hunters picked up a gun and shot the thing.

On the plus side, only about 23,000 dominoes were toppled by the bird, and the bullet effectively liquefied enough of the house sparrow that it ceased to be alive. The bad news was that shooting a bird to save a television show didn’t play well in the media, especially once the animal rights groups got involved. The shooter was fined €200 after one organization took Duke Faunabeheer and the show’s production company to court.

Local DJ Ruud de Wild was so outraged, he offered to pay €3000 to anyone who sabotaged the event by toppling the dominoes before the broadcast. Security was tightened (especially given the death threats against Faunabeheer, the production company and the network – over a friggin bird), and no further events ensued.

But good news! They broke the record and toppled 4,002,136 dominoes.

Even people who hate birds tend to love penguins. They waddle, they’re always dressed up and ready for a night out, and they seem so helpless with those flippers that don’t help them fly and won’t hold a sandwich. But some penguins are far from helpless. Like that guy in the photo there – that’s no normal King Penguin. That is Sir Nils Olav, Colonel-in-Chief of the Norwegian Royal Guard.

Nope, I’m not making this up. When the Norwegian Guard visited the Edinburgh Zoo during a trip to Scotland, Lt. Nils Egelien became fascinated by the penguins. They returned again in 1972 and Nils had arranged for the unit to adopt one, which they named Nils (after the guy behind the idea) Olav (after King Olav V of Norway). The penguin has been promoted every time the Norwegian Guard has returned to visit, finally being awarded a knighthood in 2008. In Norway, he is referred to as the mascot of the King’s Guard, but the plaque beside his statue at the Norwegian consulate in Edinburgh refers to his 2005 promotion to Colonel-In-Chief.

Always believe the plaque, that’s what I say.

One afternoon in 1945, a farmer named Lloyd Olsen of Fruita, Colorado went out to the yard to kill a chicken for dinner. He grabbed a five-month-old cockerel and swung his axe clumsily, missing the jugular vein and leaving one ear and most of the chicken’s brain stem intact. While all chickens are supposed to run around for a few minutes after decapitation, this one didn’t die. He was named Mike. And Farmer Lloyd decided to adopt him and keep him alive.

Mike spent most of his hours trying to preen himself or to peck for food with his neck-stub. Farmer Lloyd used an eyedropper to fill Mike full of a milk/water mix and dumped a few grains of corn into Mike’s digestive-tract-hole every day to keep him alive. Sure, his morning crow sounded more like an ugly gurgling of fluid than a proper cock-a-doodle-doo, but so what? He was headless and alive.

Mike’s next stop was – of course – the sideshow circuit, where he toured extensively with a two-headed calf. He became a national celebrity, with his photos showing up in Life and Time magazines. People would line up to drop a quarter to see Mike, making him a prototypical celebrity with no discernible talent, which is practically an entire industry today. He allegedly drew in as much as $4500 per month, which is about $48,000 in today’s money. You think if we were to cut off the head of a Kardashian they’d earn even more money for simply existing than they already do?

(Not that I’m condoning such violence, of course. Just a hypothetical question.)

Things were going well for Mike until a tragic evening in 1947, when he began to choke in the middle of the night in a Phoenix motel room. Farmer Lloyd and his wife, who had apparently given up on the farming game in order to cash in on Mike’s deformity, had left Mike’s feeding and cleaning syringes at the sideshow. There was nothing they could do. Mike couldn’t be saved.

Still, he lived for eighteen months missing his head, which is a pretty impressive feat for any species. A postmortem revealed that a blood clot had kept Mike from bleeding to death. Since the brain stem controls most of a chicken’s breathing and heart-rate functions, and since chickens don’t have a lot of other essential functions outside of breathing and beating its heart, Mike was able to stay healthy.

Fruita, Colorado now hosts an annual Mike the Headless Chicken Day on the third weekend of May. For a guy whose future appeared destined for barbecue sauce, I’d say he did alright.

Sometimes birds are just awesome. But not often, honey. Don’t worry – I’m still on your side.

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