Professor Fischer and His Most Extraordinary Hen with a Human Face

A hen with a human face, from Kirby's Wonderful and Eccentric Museum, Vol. 6.

A hen with a human face, from Kirby’s Wonderful and Eccentric Museum, Vol. 6.

Curious animals always attract attention—from two-headed calves and snakes to educated horses and learned pigs. But in 1816, a Professor Fischer fawned over a hen with a human face with perhaps greater detail and enthusiasm that any other animal oddity has received.

The professor, who kept the hen in his chambers, claimed everyone else was equally enthralled with the strange creature.

“Never was there a hen attracted so much attention; never has any animal, even the most rare, so greatly excited the curiosity of the public, as the hen with the human profile, which was found in the district of Belef, in the government of Tula, and sent to the Imperial University of Moscow, by his Excellency the civil governor, Mr. Bogdanoff,” Fischer claimed in The Annals of Philosophy.

The hen was average in size and wore average grey and brown feathers.

But her head presents an extraordinary phenomenon; for, at the place where the beak ought to be, she exhibits a human profile, resembling an old woman. The beak is entirely wanting, and the jaw-bones are shortened in such a manner, that they terminate where, in other hens, the nostrils are found. They are covered with flesh, and resemble lips. The comb, in a front view, in this hen, forms a kind of nose; which appears the more astonishing, as the nostrils are found between the termination of the nose and the jaw; but we are most liable to be deceived, when we see, as sometimes happens, some drops of liquid in them, or when the dust in accumulated there. To the inferior jaw is attached a fleshy excrescence, not to be found in other hens, and which forms a kind of chin. …”

Fischer’s thorough description continues, even including the hen’s favorite foods (white bread with cream, hemp-seeds, hashed meat, corn and cheese). He notes that the hen appears to prefer the company of humans over other fowls, perhaps because it, too, appreciated its human-like features. A similarity the professor expressed once more:

“These peculiarities of the head, united, present a great resemblance between the profile of this hen and that of an old woman, particularly if one does not pretend to the tuft of feathers on the head of this animal; and the longer and more attentively we look at this profile, especially when the hen feeds, the more striking does the resemblance become.”

Fischer had the courtesy to answer questions he imagined the reader may have, ensuring all curiosities were satisfied. For example, if you were wondering whether or not the hen was born looking like an old woman, Fischer would say he believed it was. “Nature has constructed her beak, although simple, yet with much art,” he wrote.

Okay, but if it was born that way, how did it break out of its shell? The professor was prepared for this question as well.

“Although it be true that the chick often opens with its beak the prison in which it is enclosed, during its development; nevertheless it often happens that the shell is burst or split, in all its length, by the growth and nourishment of the chick,” he said,

And, since several people had asked him, Fischer assured his readers that the human-faced hen did not indicate anything supernatural.