Flesh and Feather

I caught the number eighteen bus downtown on a face melting hot Wednesday. The three day workshop on how to prepare a museum quality bird had started. In class we would be learning with a European Starling that was ethically sourced from abatement work. The species are considered invasive to North America.

I stared down at the wet de-thawing bird in front of me lying on a tray with some tools. Then I glanced up and around the room at the other five students and instructor, Allis Markham from Prey Taxidermy and The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. I’d spent time in the days leading up to class watching videos from Beaty Biodiversity Museum on how to prepare bird specimens, but having a dead bird in front of me was different.

The instructor got started right away by having us stand around her and watch the first step of making the incision down the belly of the Starling. We all went back to our seats and gave it a go. I expected the bird to smell when I sliced it open but there was no odor thank goodness. I went to deep towards the tail of the Starling and cut a little bit into its intestines. For a nicer term, I’ll call it spaghetti. I admit it made me squirm. If I was at home doing this I probably would have had a hard time continuing. Being with other people doing the same thing was the comfort I need to carry on.

So the classes continued in the same fashion step by step each day.

A brief description and photos of the process follows..

  1. De-thaw the frozen bird under cool running water, It’s a very weird feeling holding a dead animal for the first time.
  2. Skin the bird
  3. Detach it’s leg bones from the hips
  4. Cut off the tips of each breast so you can detach the wing bones from the body
  5. Invert the skin and skull up to its beak, Be careful, don’t cut those eyelids and lashes off! 
  6. Remove the eyes, The instructor Allis said they are just like blueberries. Yeah, blueberries are my favorite food. I thought, this better not ruin them for me!
  7. Pull out the tongue
  8. Trim the neck at the base of the skull. The body is now detached from the skin, This part made me shudder because of the feeling of cutting through its windpipe.
  9. Before the body gets frozen for dog treats take body measurements for reference to make bird body
  10. Cut a triangle of bone from the back of the skull and scoop out the brain, Surprisingly the brain is like red snot, I was expecting a tiny brain like that of a human’s.
  11. Make an incision both wings to remove the tendons, flesh etc.
  12. Continue to remove all flesh from bones and use wire brush to remove fat from skin, Tedious part
  13. Fill skull cavity with clay and place glass eyes
  14. Re-invert the skin back over the bird’s head
  15. Wash bird in Dawn thoroughly, Use this kind so you help our wildlife!
  16. Place bird in Chinchilla dust
  17. Use a hairdryer on cool to blow off dust and dry feathers
  18. Use your measurements you took earlier to create an anatomically accurate body out of wood wool wrapped tightly with thread. You can use foam tubing and wire for its neck
  19. Wire the legs and wings and secure the wire to the bones with strings
  20. Attach wired wings and legs to body by pushing through the wood wool and twisting the wires together.
  21. Sew up the bird with a needle and cotton thread
  22. Place bird on base, etc. with the wires from the bottom of the bird’s feet
  23. Pose bird and groom feathers, you can use tape, clips and pins if needed for positioning
  24. Let the bird dry in position for a week
  25. Remove any tape, clips and pins
  26. Display your bird and be sure to properly care for it. It’s a good idea to keep away from direct sunlight and dust the bird if not in a case once a month so it will last years to come. Oh, if you have any pets that would consider it a meal keep it out of reach!

Bookstores still exist today. One happens to be in the same building as where classes were held. Funny enough its name happens to be The Last Bookstore. I bought myself an Encyclopedia of Ornithology(the study of birds) there and read it front to back. In the end I had learned so much from both the workshop and book. It kept the fire burning..