Spooky Chicken Tales, Part I: Rooster Burned at the Stake

In 1474, the townspeople of Basel, Switzerland gathered to watch a bizarre sight: a rooster being burned at the stake, with all the solemn ceremony usually reserved for a human transgressor.

The rooster was sentenced to this terrible fate “for the heinous and unnatural crime of laying an egg,” according to Johann Gross, who wrote an account of the incident in 1624. Witchcraft was suspected, and the magistrates of Basel sentenced the cock to the same punishment usually reserved for witches.

Folks back then were especially afraid of an egg laid by a rooster, because of the superstition that this egg could hatch a basilisk or cockatrice, a terrifying, winged creature with the head of a cock and tail of a serpent. This creature could kill with a glance.

Beware of eggs laid by roosters: people used to believe they could hatch a cockatrice!

The good people of Basel had no idea that such gender-bending can happen in chickens, and it’s a perfectly natural occurrence. I wrote a blog post about this rare phenomenon: “It’s a Hen… or Maybe Not! Gender-Bending Chickens.” In rare cases, roosters can start laying eggs, and hens can begin to crow… and it’s not the result of witchcraft.


Learn more about the trials of animals accused of witchcraft:

“Nature on Trial: The Case of the Rooster that Laid an Egg,” by E. V. Walter

The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals
By Edward Payson Evans

2 responses to this post.

  1. Trough history we always confirmed the fact that stupidity never stops. O, pour bird… the owner could benefit the eggs if he/she had a 💓 without having a brain 😫


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