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Home Taxidermy for Pleasure and Profit

A Guide for those who wish to prepare
and mount animals, birds, fish,
reptiles, etc., for home, den,
or office decoration

By Albert B. Farnham, Taxidermist 

Published by
A. R. HARDING, Publisher
Columbus, Ohio

Copyright, 1944
By A. R. Harding Pub. Co.
Publisher's disclaimer: Information provided is dated and is for information purposes only.

CHAPTER VIII.

PREPARING DRY AND WET SKINS FOR MOUNTING.

Let us assume that we have a dry skin each of a small bird and a furred animal which has been properly made up sometime in the past and which it is necessary to mount. Taking the bird skin first, the usual way is to first wrap the unfeathered parts of legs in some strips of cotton cloth saturated with water containing a few drops of carbolic acid until they begin to relax or lose their stiffness somewhat.

Then the filling may be removed from the whole interior of the skin and be replaced with pieces of cotton, dampened as before, and the whole skin wrapped in a cloth or shut in a close box until with some scraping and manipulation it becomes as pliable as when first removed. Any little lumps of dried muscle should be broken up and the edges of the opening cut, scraped and stretched out as they are very apt to wrinkle and curl up, thus reducing the size of the skin considerably.

FOOT SKINNED OUT.

The eye sockets are to be filled with balls of wet cotton to render the lids and surrounding skin soft. The roots of quills and tufts of large feathers will need loosening as some flesh is necessarily left around them.

The small animal skin may be treated the same way but the most thorough and expeditious method of relaxing skins of both animals and birds (except the smallest of the latter) is to plunge them into water, clear in cool weather, slightly carbolized in warm, until they are pretty well relaxed. Then go after the inner side with scraper until any lumps of fat, muscle and the inner skin are well scratched up. Soak in benzine or gasoline and clean with hot meal, sand, sawdust or plaster as directed for tanning. Remember that bird skins must be handled carefully, so do not be too strenuous in beating and shaking them.

Of course if any skin has been laid away with quantities of fat adhering it will need very gingerly handling to save it, in fact unless very rare such skins are not worth trying to save as they have little durability however treated. The largest polar bear skin I ever saw was ruined by lying "in the grease" too long before dressing. Bird skins preserved with the glycerine carbolic preparation require relaxing the legs and a cleaning and dampening up of the inside of the skins.

Furred skins from the pickle need a good scraping on their inner surface, thorough rinsing in soda solution to neutralize the acid and remove all salt, then the benzine bath and cleaning. Don't forget to rinse salted or pickled skins else beads of moisture will form on the specimen in damp weather and crystals of salt in dry.

Occasionally an extra rare skin will drop to pieces through age or other infirmities when being prepared for mounting. The only hope for it then is to glue and pin it piecemeal on a manikin covered with some preparation which gives it a firm surface. While an expert will achieve fair results in such work the amateur could hardly expect success.

CHAPTER IX.

MOUNTING SMALL AND MEDIUM BIRDS.

A word of advice to the beginner as to the variety of specimen to use in first trials. Don't begin on too small a bird until somewhat adept; unpracticed fingers bungle sadly over tiny feathered bodies. A first subject should be at least as large as a bob white to give room to work, and of some variety in which the feathers are firmly embedded.

Snow birds, cardinals, and some others have very thin delicate skins, the pigeons shed their feathers on little or no provocation. Blackbirds and jays are very good to practice on but the very best would be a coot, sometimes called crow duck or mudhen. It is of fair size, closely covered with feathers which will fall in place readily after skinning and wiring even at the hands of a beginner.

Many, in fact most, birds have numerous bare patches which the adjacent feathered tracts cover perfectly while in the flesh, but which a too generous filling will exhibit in all their nakedness. I had not discovered this until some of my first attempts at mounting birds nonplussed me by showing numerous patches of bare skin in spite of the fact that but a few feathers had become loosened in the handling.

CLINCHING LEG WIRES IN ARTIFICIAL BODY OF BIRD

We will assume that a suitable specimen is at hand, freshly killed and properly skinned as per the directions already given. All bones remaining with the skin, lower leg, wing, skull, etc., have been stripped of flesh and any shreds remaining poisoned, as has the entire inner surface of skin. With the skinned body at hand cut three wires of suitable size, one a little more than twice the length of the body and neck, for the body wire, the other two about twice the length of the legs may be a size larger as it is important that the leg wires furnish adequate support.

Form the body wire into a loop which is the outline of the body laid on one side with the surplus end projecting along the line of the neck. This loop should not be quite as large as the body, however, to allow for a thin layer of filling material over it. Wad up a handful of coarse tow, push it inside the body loop and wind with coarse thread, drawing in by pressure and winding and building out with flakes of tow to a rough shape of the skinned body. The neck also is built up the same way, making it fully as thick as the original but no longer ever.

If the wire projects more than a couple of inches from this artificial neck, cut it off at that length and with a flat file or emery wheel give it a sharp triangular point. The leg wires, too, should be pointed similarly. All wire should be smooth, straight, and free from kinks to work well. Coming in coils it will require straightening, the larger sizes with mallet or hammer and No. 18 and smaller by fastening one end in the vise and giving the other a sharp tug with a pair of pliers. It will be felt to stretch slightly and become quite straight.

WIRE LOOP FOR BIRD BODY.

Next insert the pointed end of a leg wire in the bottom of the foot and pass it up along the back of the bone between it and the skin. A considerable knack is necessary to do this successfully and some force must be used. Passing the heel joint is difficult but having done this and emerged inside the skin continue to pass it until it is a little longer than the leg bone beside it.

WIRING LEG OF BIRD

Turn the skin of leg inside out and wrapping tow around both bone and wire build up a duplicate of the leg from thigh to heel, wrapping snugly with thread. Treat the other leg the same.

With forceps fill the skull back of mouth with tow cut in short pieces. A quantity of this may be chopped on the block with the hatchet and kept on hand in a box. Never fill any part of a mounted bird with cotton unless it may be the sockets as it is impossible to force a sharpened wire or pin through it.

The parts of the wing bones remaining should be wrapped with tow as the legs are, only they hardly need any wiring inside unless the bird is to be with wings spread. Fasten the ends of the wing bones together by a stout cord or thread so they are separated the distance between the shoulders, measuring across the back of body. Now insert the neck wire in the back of skull forcing it out through the crown until the artificial neck is brought snugly against the opening at the base of the skull.

Bend the pointed end over to get it out of the way and adjust the skin of the neck. Draw the skin of breast over the body keeping the bird on its back. If the body has been properly made it will fill the skin rather loosely. If too large it can be removed and made smaller before proceeding.

The operator will note that in all small and medium birds the thigh and the upper wing, next the shoulder are not built up and wired with the rest of the limbs but are filled out later from inside the skin, as in all ordinary positions they show but little externally, the elbow and knee joints nestling close to the body among the feathers.

So when fastening the legs to the body let the wires enter where the knee would lie and push the wire through obliquely, upward and forward, pushing and drawing them through the artificial and natural leg until the lower ends approach the feet. Grasping the sharpened ends of the leg wires at the middle of the length projecting from the body, with round nose pliers bend them over in a hair pin shape.

BIRD WIRED.

Work this loop back through the body pulling back through the leg and clinch the points over into the body again. If the body was firmly made as it should be, this fixes the legs permanently to it, yet they may be bent readily at the joints to suit various attitudes.

Adjust the skin now and fill out at shoulders, thighs, and base of tail with some chopped tow. The breast also may need some filling. Sew up the skin beginning at the breast and finishing at the base of tail, lacing it together with the ball cover stitch.

The pose of the finished specimen you have probably decided on before now so it only remains to put it in the desired attitude. This sounds easy, like sculpture, "just knock off what stone you don't need and there is the statue," but it may try your soul at length to obtain the desired effect. Good pictures are a great help here, as of course a living duplicate would be if you had it.

Before setting it on its feet, coax the wings into place as you hold the bird in your hand and pin them to the body through the elbow and outer joint of the wing, using several pins 2 to 4 in. long or pieces of sharpened wire the same size. This will hold the wings out of the way and they may be changed and fitted perfectly later.

Mounted birds are usually put on temporary stands of rough boards or limbs and when fully dried out transferred to a permanent mount which can be prepared in the meantime of the exact size and variety wished for. On these temporary stands the leg wires are only twisted together so they can be easily removed. Place the feet in natural positions of standing, walking or running and arrange the toes correctly. They had best have some pins driven in beside the toes to secure them till dry, as badly shaped feet will spoil the effect of an otherwise fine piece of work, indicating a careless workman.

If on a bough or stump the feet should grasp it as if the bird really means to stay on it. Two or three wires like those used on the wings hold the tail in place by being driven through the base of it into the body for half their length.

Fix the head looking down rather than up and to one side rather than straight ahead. If you have the proper glass eyes at hand they can be set now, if not, later will do but the lids are relaxed just now to receive them. Fill the back of the sockets with tow or cotton and with a little spoon-shaped modeling tool give this and the inner surface of the lids a good coating of soft clay. The eyes, cut from the wire stem on which most of them come, are pressed into this and the skin worked into place with the point of a big needle or a small awl.

Now give the plumage a general going over, re-pin the wings if necessary, and wind down any obstreperous feathers with thread. A number of pins or wires thrust in the middle of back and breast will help this operation.

Starting at the head wind back to the tail, lacing the thread from pin to pin, not binding tightly with any one thread but producing a smooth surface by holding it down at a multiplicity of points. There are a number of so-called systems for winding birds but the same taxidermist seldom winds two alike as the needs of the case are sure to differ. To spread the tails of small birds, spread the feathers as desired and pin them between two strips of light cardboard. When dry they will retain their position. If all arranged properly set the bird away to dry; two weeks will be sufficient for this.

BIRD WOUND WITH THREAD.

Any colors on bill or feet and legs should be renewed with oil colors as they fade almost entirely; if of a dark or neutral color originally, a coating of transparent varnish will do. There is a variety of beetle which delights in dining on such hard parts of mounted birds if not protected by paint or varnish.

Place the bird on its final mount and fasten the leg wires in grooves cut in the under side of same so they are flush with surface. The ends may be turned over and driven in again or held fast by small staples. If on the under side of a limb or branch a pinch of moss or lichen glued on will cover this fastening.

THE POSE OR POSITION OF CERTAIN BIRDS

Cut away the binding threads and with cutting pliers cut off all projecting pins and wires, leaving what part of them is covered by the feathers. Brush any clay from the eyes and if the lids have shrunken away from them as they do usually, coat a bit of black thread with glue and with a setting needle place between the lids and glass eyes.

If the eyes were not on hand when first mounted the lids should have been relaxed and the eyes set as soon as procured.

FLUTTERING POSITION OF SMALL BIRDS.

Small birds may be mounted in fluttering attitudes by pinning the wings with a bunch of cotton beneath them, but if an attitude with wings fully spread is called for they must be treated in a manner similar to the legs, inserting the wire under the skin near the tip of the wing and running it along the under side of the wing bones to the body through which it is thrust and clinched as the leg wires were.

Birds mounted with spread wings cannot be so readily wound to smooth the plumage and require to be braced with strips of stiff paper and sometimes extra wires, which are removed when dry.


NATURAL STANDING POSITION OF SMALL BIRD ON LIMB.

CHAPTER X.

MOUNTING LARGE BIRDS.

The same principles employed in the manipulation of smaller species apply to this class with but a few variations. On account of their size and weight the artificial bodies need to be especially firm in order to afford a secure anchorage for the wing and leg wires. Also these supports should be fastened to the bones in several places with stout cord or small wire, as wrapping with the tow and thread used on small birds is hardly sufficient.

What I would class as being large birds are the larger hawks, owls, herons, eagles, geese, etc. The several varieties of the ostrich are known as colossal birds and are skinned and preserved much as the large quadrupeds by mounting the prepared skin on a manikin, built in the pose of the finished specimen and supported by heavy iron rods.

BIRD OF PREY—LIMB POSITION.

In mounting eagles or similar birds with wings spread, which seems to be a popular attitude, use the largest wires possible as anything less than that will, on account of their size and wide extent, tend to a drooping, back-boneless appearance entirely out of keeping.

It goes without saying that large birds do not require the delicate handling of small ones, but by way of compensation considerable force is needed.

SPREADING TAIL OF LARGE BIRDS. Run a small sharp wire through the quills on under side of tail to spread it.

The combs and wattles of domestic and wild fowls cannot by any common process be prevented from shriveling and discoloring while drying, but when dry they may be restored by careful modeling in colored wax. This is applied warm with a brush and given its final finish with hot metal modeling tools. For museum work and other high grade work such heads are cast entire in wax in such a way that all feathers and hair are attached in their precise places.

Large water fowl are often mounted as flying, and suspended by a very fine wire. A sharpened wire with a ring turned in one end, thrust into the middle of the back and clinched in the body, forms a secure point of suspension.

As it is not usually practicable to case many specimens of large birds, give them an extra thorough poisoning and when entirely finished spray with either corrosive sublimate or arsenical solution.

In making bodies for large birds it is well to use excelsior for the main bulk of the body, merely covering the outside with a thin layer of tow. This is not only more economical but makes a lighter specimen than one filled with tow entirely. Excelsior or wood wool is to be had in varying degrees of fineness of upholstery dealers.

SPREAD EAGLE. WINGS BRACED UP TO DRY.

In the case of a bird which has been wired and sewn up seeming to require further filling out, it can be accomplished in most cases by making an incision under each wing and introducing some flakes of tow with a wire stuffing tool. If the bird is mounted with closed wings this slit need not even be sewed up as the folded wing covers it completely.

Chapter XI - TANNING, CLEANING AND POISONING SKINS.

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