This week’s entry: Chicken eyeglasses
What it’s about: Nothing weird at all, just glasses-wearing chickens. Believe it or not, it was common in the early 20th century for farmers to outfit chickens with tiny pairs of spectacles. History does not record, however, whether any roosters suddenly realized the hen of his dreams was right in front of him all along when one of the chickens took off her glasses and let her feathers down.
Biggest controversy: Attaching the glasses, as you might imagine, was no easy task. The glasses did help chickens’ eyesight, in a way—farmers began using them to stop chickens from pecking each others’ eyes out. (The article also says they prevented aggressive pecking and even cannibalism, but does not say how.) But to get the glasses to stay on, farmers tried strapping them on, inserting small hooks into the birds’ nostrils, and even piercing the septum. While this means chickens got to out-hipster hipsters by getting septum piercings before it was cool, the method is also illegal in some countries because of the harm to the bird. Any of those methods, however, are an improvement on beak trimming, in which the front third of a chicken’s beak is removed to prevent pecking.
Strangest fact: Chickens literally saw the world through rose-colored glasses. Although many farmers believed (incorrectly) that chickens were color blind, early chicken eyeglass manufacturers used red lenses to mask the color of blood, so chickens would be less likely to attack an already-injured member of the flock. Some glasses even had lenses on a hinge, Dwayne Wayne-style, so they could see clearly looking down at food, but had a rose-colored view looking at other chickens.
Thing we were happiest to learn: Chicken glasses got their moment of fame. In a 1955 episode of What’s My Line?—a game show in which a celebrity panel tried to guess the contestant’s occupation—Sam Nadler managed to stump the panel before revealing his occupation as “sells eyeglasses for chickens.” The show’s director said Nadler had the most unusual occupation in the show’s run.
Thing we were unhappiest to learn: It’s captivity that causes chickens’ bloodlust. It should come as no surprise that chickens are not cannibals by nature, but being confined in small spaces (as millions of birds are on factory farms across the country) creates all kinds of abnormal behavior, including obsessive tics and aggression.
Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: Yes, there are also eyeglasses for dogs, and yes, they’re called doggles. A woman named Roni Di Lullo noticed her dog squinting, and modified a pair of goggles to fit her dog’s head. She went into business, and the company blew up in 2004, when another woman sending supplies to Army dogs in Iraq saw them, and not only sent doggles overseas to help protect canine soldiers from sandstorms, but also got doggles a lot of good press. The dog glasses are now sold in 16 countries.
Further down the Wormhole: The page has links to myriad poultry-related topics, including “chick sexing,” which is not as sexy as it sounds, and cockfighting. For 6,000 years or so, people have used chickens’ proclivity for pecking each other to encourage and wager on fights. This is, of course, monstrously cruel to the birds involved, and as such the practice is a felony in 40 states. There are many legal defenses to mount when one is accused of a felony, from self-defense to entrapment to good old-fashioned insanity. A rarely used but compelling defense is automatism, which means the person was not aware of their actions because they were unconscious or otherwise impaired. (The defense was famously used by R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, after combining wine and sleeping pills resulted in bizarre behavior on an airplane, including confusing the drinks cart with a CD player, and “a struggle over a yogurt cup with two flight attendants.”) The most extreme variety of automatism is homicidal sleepwalking, which has dozens of recorded cases and isn’t just an outlandish premise for an Inception sequel. We’ll take a look next week, and in the meantime, pleasant dreams!