A Flightless Bird

Whats the one thing that comes to mind when you hear the word bird? Flying, right? Well the Greater Rhea is an exception. No, it’s not a wingless bird or anything crazy like that; over time evolution has just rendered these birds flightless. They are omnivores originating from the woodlands of Argentina and Brazil. An adult Rhea can grow up to five feet tall! They remind me of an Ostrich, sort of.

It happens I had the opportunity to buy four naturally deceased BABY(!!) Greater Rheas from a farm out in the Midwest. Before I saw them for sale I hadn’t ever heard of the species before.

The day they arrived in the mail I opened up the box quickly. One, because I was excited to see them in person and two, because I wanted to get them in the freezer asap! Despite the Rheas being wrapped in 50 plastic bags and insulation they were barely cool and I feared the worst.

I threw three of them in the freezer right away and then took the fourth one over to my table to Taxidermy. Whew! Yup, these guys suffered by not being frozen for a couple days. They traveled by USPS 2-3 day priority mail but they seller should have thrown in ice packs at least.

The Rhea I was Taxiing smelled like crap and the insides had begun to liquidize and the skin was black and slimy. AWESOME, I thought. Been here before but now I know from experience how to try and save the bird when its in such poor condition. I threw it in some denatured alcohol periodically as I skinned and fleshed it as fast as I could. (Hence no pictures) Then I painted Stop Rot on the inside of the skin. Phew, after a disgusting hour or so I had finally finished skinning it.

I prepped it and threw it back in the freezer inside a plastic bag until I could order the materials I would need for this little bugger. (You can freeze the birds again. You just don’t want to dethaw more than needed back and forth because of obvious reasons.)

No Taxidermy suppliers sold the eyes I needed for these baby Rheas (a black banded limbus with a light blue sclera eye in size 10mm-11mm). I instead ordered glass eye blanks that you paint yourself. Let me tell you painting tiny glass eyes (in this case 10mm-11mm) is not easy. The slightest imperfection on the back of the glass eye where you paint them causes problems. The eyes seem to magnify anything off kilter because of their shape.

In the end I got them as good as they were going to get with some careful application of sharpie, acrylic paint and sealer (polyurethane spray). I had some problems with the first sealer I tried, clear nail polish. It got under the acrylic paint on two of the three sets of eyes and created imperfections. Well that’s as far as I’ve got with the baby Rhea. I’m excited to finish one of these guys up