Taxidermy Birds

Taxidermy Birds – Skin and Mount birds, a complete guide.

Taxidermy Birds

In this post we will be covering everything you need to know on how to taxidermy birds.

Before we begin, a quick shout.

I would like to thank Divya Anantha Raman & Katie Innamorato for writing a fantastic book on modern taxidermy which you can and must check out. It was extremely helpful for me to get started.

This post contains everything i’ve learnt and some illustrations from the book.

Birds are actually not that large, their feathers make them appear larger than they actually are. Like most animals, it is recommended that you freeze and thaw the animals before working on them.

Something that might be worth looking at is pinfeathers on the bird, these usually fall out during skinning and fleshing. We can save them and attach them later.

Just like we do for other mammals, we can pack the vent with some cotton, it is also a good idea to put cotton in the mouth and throat.

Birds have an expanded muscular pouch in their throat called crops. These are usually full of food. So spilling it would usually be pretty similar to poop.

One last thing before you begin, it is highly recommended to start with a smaller mammal like a squirrel or a rat if you’re a beginner since birds have some tricks up their sleeve!

Skinning

Removing a bird’s carcass is a bit different from that of other mammals. You need to begin from the front instead of the back.

When we taxidermy birds, we start by washing the feathers in cool water to keep them clean and wet. This will also help you expose the sternum, which is where you part the feathers and cut them gently.

Starting at the breast

The breast meat is quite thick so you can start your incision without worrying too much about the organs over here.

Ideally you want to start your incision at the very top of the breast (near the neck) and stop just above the vent.

Taxidermy Birds

You want to keep it straight so you can re-align the feathers later on and the shorter you keep it, the lesser the likelihood to tear near the tail and wings. Also less sewing later on!

Now, using tweezers or your fingers, gently lift the skin and start peeling it away from the breast toward the sides.

Taxidermy Birds

There will be a lot of goo in the skin, fats, tissues, you can address this later while fleshing. Massage it gently with borax for an abrasive effect and remove the skin in tough spots.

Taxidermy Birds

Toward the hip joint

Now, to expose the hip joint, work the skin up and down the leg with your fingers to expose the hip joint.

Taxidermy Birds

At this stage you can cut both the hip joints. These are joints and not bone so, if there are any crunchy sounds you’re doing something wrong.

Hold the bird upright and use your hands to skin around the vent and tail. The goal is to take the butt end out of the carcass while cutting toward the backbone.

Be careful here because the skin around this area is a little harder than other areas. We want to keep the vent intact while carefully skinning around it.

On smaller birds you can just remove the meat from the tail feathers, the tail here might be too tiny to skin.

The wings

After releasing the bottom you can work the skin up over to the wings. We’re looking for a shoulder joint to find where the wings attach to the body, under and around the arm pits.

Here you want to cut off the joints and release the body.

The meat and the bones of the wings are still inside the skin, we will come back to clean these later.

Now we start working the skin to the head and neck, this helps in holding the carcass up and letting the skin hang downward. At this point, you can use your hands to roll the skin off like a sock.

You might notice some tension where the head meets the neck, sometime you might need to do a relief cut but usually fingers and borax work great.

Try to do the relief cut in a place that is relatively hidden and easy to groom, like below the head. Also, pay special attention to the eyelids and the ears to make sure that they are intact.

The Final cut

Finally, make a cut where the skull meets the neck and release the body.

And you’re done!

You should now have a skin (with skull, wingbones and drumsticks) along with a headless carcass without limbs.

Cleaning

In this part of your journey trying to taxidermy birds, we will try to clean up the gunk left in the skin.

Start with Legs

Once you’ve measured and noted the size of the legs with the meat. We use a scalpel, or your fingers or borax to clean the meat off the bones, we want to get it as clean as possible. Any meat at this point is garbage.

You might notice some connective tissue left to keep the bones together (this can be fixed easily if it comes apart)

After cleaning it’s time to remove the marrow from the bones.

You can use a small saw or heavy duty snippers along with a pipe cleaner or awl to do this.

Alternatively, you can drill a hole on either end of the bone and use compressed air to force the marrow out of the bone.

You want to be careful not to break the bone, if you do you can always use glue to put it back.

Moving to Feet

Now at the bottom of the foot on the pad, start by making a small incision that is deep enough that it exposes a silky white surface. These are called tendons, you can remove them with a bent wire or a small hook with picking motion.

We do this to reduce the amount of material that will rot underneath, it also makes the wiring easier. We can make some room for fillers here.

Once you’ve pulled the tendons out, you can snip them with a scissors.

On to the tail

Here we work the skin past the vent around the tail.

There’s a lot of meat stuck to the butts of the tail feathers. You will also see to yellow orbs, these are the oil glands and need to be removed as well.

You can use borax to remove the glands with your fingers or a dull scalpel. Be very careful not to puncture the oil glands because it’s very smelly and slimy.

To remove the meat from the butts of the feathers you can use a wire brush or blade.

Here’s a comparison of clean and dirty, clean it up!

The wings

The wings are like arms of the birds, there’s a shoulder, elbow and wrist joints. There’s a bunch of ways we can clean the meat from the bones here.

You can work the skin on the wings like a sleeve, and clean the meat from the bones later, very similar to the legs.

To do this you can use borax and some careful cutting around the joints where the skin bends.

Another way to clean the meat is to work down toward the elbow joints and use a modeling tool to work under the skin and in the meat window between the radius and ulna, cleaning the meat out using the tool and pulling the tendons as necessary for help.

You want to take as much time as you can and make sure that you leave the wings intact. You’ll soon start to notice that similar to the legs, there’s a bit of connective tissue left to keep the humerus, radius, and ulna together.

Don’t worry if they come apart, you can always fix it up with wiring.

The head

This is the final part in cleaning while you’re doing taxidermy on birds.

Start by removing the eyes and clean the meat away from the skull with a scalpel, borax, a wire brush, metal picks.

You want to remove as much meat as possible, including the tongue. Make a hole behind the skull and clean the brains out, you can also use compressed air for this.

Rebuilding the skull is a fairly easy process, so don’t worry if it gets cracked or damaged.

Finally, when you’re done cleaning the bones it’s okay if they’re not totally white just make sure to clean up everything that’s meaty or slimy. It’ll clean up after washing too.

Fleshing

We can now see that the feathers mostly sit on a thin layer of fat.

This fat, just like other meat and tissue has to be remove from the skin as well.

We want to make sure that the skin and feathers are intact while doing this, the best way is to use controlled abrasion.

Try using a butter knife, a dull spoon, borax, fingers or wire brush along with a fleshing beam or dowel for leverage.

Take as much time as you need but make sure that there’s no fat remaining.

Washing

This is an incredibly important part when you’re trying to taxidermy birds. It must be done thoroughly and multiple times over to make sure that fat, grease, blood, and stains are all removed from the specimen.

Getting it clean

It is highly recommended to use a de-greasing soap to do this, and if the bird is stronger you can use more specialized soaps.

After doing this, use a toothbrush and luke warm water to create a lather paying attention to butts and dirty spots on the flesh side and feather side of the skin.

Make sure you’re getting the bones, the feet, and the skull. Try using a syringe or a squirt bottle for hard to reach areas.

Once you’ve rinsed it with water, fill a tub or bucket with lukewarm water and pick a degreaser. (Ideally you want a capful of soap for every gallon of water)

Letting the skin sit in for 15-20 minutes will let the degreaser do it’s thing.

Fat (if any) will mostly end up rising to the top and you will notice that the feathers are not moving freely. If the skin is clean, the feathers will float and move freely.

Keep washing till no more fat remains on the skin

Post wash cleaning

After this soak the bird in a fabric softner and luke warm water (same ratio). This will soften and condition the skin and the feathers.

You can gently squeeze the excess water but don’t rinse the skin, wet birds are delicate and tear easily.

Use super glue or sew up any holes that you see in the skin.

Preserving

This is incredibly important when you’re trying to taxidermy birds, and also a bit different from most mammals.

To preserve the bird skin you can use bird tan or dry preserve, most birds are sufficiently thick-skinned, and preserve is enough.

Apply it to the skin and coating thoroughly, shake off any excess. Fleshing it thoroughly is really important for any preservative to be effective.

Assembly

We are going to assume that a body form has been built for the bird using wrapped body. You can read about how to make a form here.

Invert the head and tumble dry the skin using a dryer without heat. A bird tumbler or bag with corncob grit or sawdust work great and help absorb the remaining moisture.

The tumbling powder will help you fluff out all the layers.

If you’re using a dryer, make sure to keep the heat low and throw air in the direction of the feathers.

This is the point when your bird starts fluffing up and coming back to life! Make sure not to dry it so much that it gets too hard and crunchy.

The Skull

Use clay to re-sculpt the facial features and focus on adding volume to areas that were removed before. Set the eyes into the clay, try to be sure to keep them level and symmetrical.

Pay attention to the shape and character of the eyelids.

After setting the eyes, sprinkle borax or dry preserve into the brain cavity before you fill it with clay.

Turn it inside out after re-sculpting.

Body Form

Here’s an example of the form we’re using. You can learn how to make your own form here.

The body is wrapped with a flexible annealed wire for the neck. Whether you’re doing taxidermy on birds or any other animal, these wires should not rust.

You can make it with bird neck, foam, smooth layers of rope and secure around the neck wire, or wrapped wood wool.

Just make sure that it’s smooth, curved into the S shape of bird necks and all excess wire goes into the clay filled skull.

For some, they prefer to have the excess wire stick out through the skull or through the beak. But you can simply trim it up and secure it into the clay.

Carefully study the carcass and the reference photos, make sure everything is in the correct place. It might be easier to wire the legs and wings before the body form.

Legs

Start by cutting a length of wire which is as long as the total sum of the leg from the tip of the bone to the bottom of the foot. There should be about 4-6 inches of excess for attaching the leg to the form at the top and the bottom end.

It is really important that you use a strong wire. This is what holds the bird. Make sure that the gauge is as thick as possible.

To wire the legs, run it along the bone, where the meet once was. Now, work it around the ankle joint so it can be threaded into the foot near the tendons.

You can have some excess running out toward the bottom of the foot. Both going from foot up toward the skin or from the skin down toward the foot are fine.

You can use tape or wrap a thread to secure the wire to the leg after doing the wiring.

Make sure you have enough excess wire to attach the leg to your form and base. Thread and wood wool work great too.

Wings

Wiring on the wings is pretty similar to that on the legs. You can however consider using a lighter one.

Cut it in the size of the wing with 4-6 inch excess wire and run it along the wing bones. Note that the excess on one end will come out from the tip of the wing and the other will be attached to the body of the form.

Use electric tape or thread to secure the wire to the wing bones and keep them running smoothly together.

You can use polyfill, cotton batting or caulk to fill and re-build the wing meat. You can use a glass cleaner to remove caulk from the feathers.

Tail

There is a U shaped cavity after removing the meat from the tail. We will support this by bending a wire in U-Shape and glue it to the feather butts and then hooking it into the body form using glue.

Do it from the outside in and hide the wire between the layers of the tail feathers.

Once you’ve done this, hook the wing, the leg and the tail wires into the body form.

Try to make sure that they match the attachment points of the carcass as accurately as possible and trim any excess wire.

Bend the wings and the legs to avoid ruffling the feathers after sewing.

Sewing

This part of birds taxidermy takes patience and careful attention to detail. Use a thin needle and monofilament thread and start by making small stitches as close to the incision as possible.

You can pass it from the flesh side to the feather side to make the stitch invisible.

Make sure to unroll any skin that may curl up onto itself and keep the feather patterns aligned.

Once the incision is closed, tie of the needle at the end and you’re done!

Finishing

At last we’re now at the final stage of our taxidermy birds journey.

Start by positioning your bird minding the folds, creases, and pockets. Any unruly feathers can be fixed with more powdering, blow-drying, or even gentle steaming and brushing with a soft makeup brush.

We can use the excess wire in the wings and legs to position those parts. It helps to put the leg wires into a foam base for drying.

Remember that the joints on birds are not the same as joints on mammals. The S shaped neck helps lay the feathers properly and keep the bird looking natural.

Also try not to bend the leg join backward, the bones will serve as a great guide to where things need to be placed.

There are other processes like detail grooming and feather tiling that take a very long time but they’re worth it and make for an excellent mount.

Use a blow dryer to help align and fluff the feathers, tweezer to define patterns and a painter’s tape or fishnet to train the feathers and keep them in place as your specimen dries.

Once the bird has dried, you will notice that the colors of the beak, feet, and other bare skin are fading, this is completely okay. If the bird had eye rings, you will have to paint them to match the original colors.

Conclusion

Congratulations! you’ve finally understood how to taxidermy birds. Make sure to use a sealer to protect the work and the paint and enjoy your work!

Hope you found it helpful. if you did, don’t forget to share it with your friends!

Definitely purchase this amazing book on modern taxidermy

Also, tell me about your experience in the comments below.

Happy Slicing!

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