Day 2 began with the application of the preservative powder onto the inside of the skin and skull taking care not to get any onto the feathers. The preservative was a proprietary mixture from a taxidermy supplier and although the ingredients weren’t listed, its likely this powder is predominantly borax. At this stage, balls of clay were added to the eye sockets and clay mixed with tow fibre pushed inside the skull cavity. Glass eyes were pushed into the wet clay and the skin could be turned the right way out again.
At this point it was hard to imagine that the bedraggled clumps of feathers and skin would ever resemble a bird again but the next stage of blow drying with a hair dryer worked wonders. Cotton wool balls were used to temporarily fill the chest cavity and prevent the skin sticking together during blow drying.
Once dry, the feather regained a lot of their fluffy appearance. The bird was a juvenile so the feathers have a downy texture and seemed more susceptible to damage. The cotton wool was removed and the legs were prepared for wiring. The femurs were each bulked with wood wool bound around the bone with thread to recreate the ‘drumstick’ appearance of the thigh muscle. A sharpened steel wire was then pushed up through the cuts made in the bottom of each foot during tendon removal yesterday. The tops of these wires protruded through the top of the wood wool thigh sections and were left for wiring up later.
Next, the wings were wired up. Sharpened steel wires were passed through the length of each humerus and out at the elbow joint. The wires were then anchored in between the bones of the radius and ulna with a few stitches and a small amount of clay to simulate the flesh in this area.
The next stage was to put the wood wool body form into the skin where the sharpened steel wire running through its centre was pushed up through the top of the skull until the wire protruded through the top of the head. With a bit of adjustment of the skin around the form and skull, the wires from the wings and legs could then be pushed through the body form and cleated to secure them in position. The central incision was then stitched closed.
Although precision is required at every step, the final stages are where the artistry and an appreciation of natural bird behaviour come into play. The positions of the head, wings and legs are tweaked at this stage and minute adjustments to the eyes and face can be made to give real character and expression to the bird. The feathers and feet can also be rearranged into more realistic positions. The jay was wired onto a temporary base during this phase and pins were used to hold the eyes, wings and tail into place until the specimen has time to dry. The pins stop the skin shrinking and becoming distorted during drying.
Finally, a length of gauze was carefully tied around the wings to hold them in position whilst drying and stop the feathers getting disarranged. Once dry, the specimen will be mounted onto a branch and base…images to follow!
So this weekend provided a whistle stop tour of the art of taxidermy and gave me an idea of the processes and equipment involved. Like any craft based practice, a huge amount of time and dedication is necessary to perfect techniques and create a truly lifelike result. This taster session was really inspiring and I plan to attempt the process from start to finish myself in the future and see what happens!