No matter what you’re beginning in life, it’s always important to understand the framework. I think the secrets to a strong one are patience, planning and your powers of observation. There will be a series of trials and errors, but you just don’t settle until everything is in it’s right place. What’s that Radiohead song again? (one of my personal favorites, Thom)
I was commissioned by wildlife biologist, explorer, and Falconer, Lisa Selner, to create a skeleton articulation of a juvenile European Starling that was sourced from abatement work. She requested that I leave the wings and tail plumage intact. I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to try this articulation thing out. Thanks for the push, Lisa!
So without further adue, here is a materials list to get you started…
- small sharp knife or scalpel
- crock pot (I can’t be held responsible for missing limbs if you use your mom’s)
- wire 14-16, 24 gauge (the gauge of wire will depend on your bird size)
- white glue
- wire cutters
- hydrogen peroxide 3%
- sand paper
- wood dow
- wood base
- paint for base
- metal pin(s)
- biological washing liquid
- one naturaly deceased bird, as large as possible
- last but most importantly, patience
Now let’s move on to the steps, shall we…
- Preparing the bird for the crock pot. There is no need to do a one piece skinning job, because what we are about to do will render the skin unusable for Taxidermy in any way. Carefully remove internal organs and any large muscle mass like the breasts and depending on your bird’s size, thighs. If you don’t want to save any feathers, you can cut them off with scissors. If you want to save feathers, dissect or pluck them off at this time. Some feathers articulate directly up to the bones and it can be interesting to include them in the finished skeleton. Do not leave any feathers on the bird you wish to save.
- Bird soup time. Make sure to do this part outside to avoid a smelly home. YOU DON’T WANT TO EVER BOIL YOUR BONES, this will possibly damage them and increase their fragility. Hence, why we are using a crock pot. Fill your crock pot with water and pour a cup of biological washing liquid into it. Place your bird inside and set on high for 3 hours. Depending on your bird’s size you may have to adjust the time. Obviously, the less time spent in the hot water for desired results, the better. Tip: How can you tell when your bird is ready to take out? When you notice the bones easily coming apart and the meat is falling off. If it still needs more time, the connective tissue will still remain well attached to the bones. If overcooked the skull may come apart and other bones may soften up. Pull the skull as soon as the lower mandible will pull off easily. The rest of the bird is done when the vertebrae easily separates from each other.
- Cleaning the bones. Take your time and be careful not to lose any bones. Use your toothpick, tweezers and toothbrush to clean the bird’s bones. It will probably take you an hour or two to clean the skull. Be gentle, especially so with the hyoid bones of the throat and tongue. The beak sheaths may slip off. If they do, clean them and save them to put back on later. Remove the brains by stirring them through the foramen magnumand flushing out with running water. The feet/leg bones should easily slip out of the skin and vertebrae/ribs should pull apart. Use your toothbrush and running water to clean any soft tissue off the bones.
- Soak the bones. Using 3% Hydrogen Peroxide, soak your bones for 3-4 days until bleached white.
- Dry the bones. The secret to holding bird skeletons together is the glue. In order for the glue to adhere best, the bones must be totally dry and degreased.
- Choose your desired position. Before reassembling, decide on a position for the bird. Be sure to find a reference photo of your pose you choose. I chose a standing position with the wings outstretched in order to best show off the bones.
- Assemble the skeleton. You’ll want to use a combination of white glue, steel pins, wire and rods, depending on the size of your bird. “The Bird Building Book” by Lee Post was an invaluable reference for assembling my skeleton. You can purchase a copy here. I could NOT have done this without Lee’s guide! I happen to find a copy of this while visiting Alaska’s, Title Wave Books.