how to preserve a bird skeleton

Introduction: How to Preserve Bird Wings, Legs, and Heads…the Native Way!

how to preserve a bird skeleton

For many thousands of years, indigenous peoples have preserved the body parts of a diverse range of animals. Using bird parts is one simple method that yields good results. All the birds Ive used have been found already dead. No animals were harmed. The unneeded parts were returned to the Earth with respect. Since I don’t currently have any dead birds to work on, I will be posting drawings and pictures of the completed projects along with this instructable. Because birds can carry salmonella and other parasites, please wear gloves for your own protection and make sure to thoroughly wash your hands and all tools after using them.

***NOTE: Hello everyone, before we continue with this instructable, let me just say this: Since I published it, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about your personal preservations. I’ve noticed that a lot of the questions that have been asked recently can be answered by reading through some of my responses to other people, so instead of typing out the same responses repeatedly, I’ve created a FAQ. Please ask me a question if you’re certain that these don’t address it. You can assume the answer to your query is in the FAQ if I don’t respond to it in a few days. Q: I found a bird that has some insects/maggots. Will it still preserve properly? A: No. Even if you are successful in eliminating every bug, there’s a good chance that they have left behind eggs that will eventually hatch and continue to contaminate the parts even after they have dried. Furthermore, their digestive enzymes will contribute to the persistent deterioration of the flesh and an unpleasant smell. Q My bird parts smell bad, like they’re rotting, but they don’t have any bugs. A: It won’t go away, not even with preservation. Once allowed to form, the decomposition’s acids and gases will never go. The portions will always smell bad, even if the smell gradually fades. Your parts should not smell like they are decaying; rather, they should smell like warm, fresh poultry before, during, and after preservation. Found carcasses should ideally be no older than a day. After my parts were placed in the box a few days ago, the box has started to smell bad. A: The box should never smell at any point. If this is occurring, a problem has arisen and the part is not being preserved correctly. In this case I recommend discarding the part. When the parts are fully preserved, they should feel completely stiff and dry. The cutting edges must be totally solid and dry—not gummy or wet. If they don’t fit these requirements, bury them once more for a month. Legs and wings typically take at least a month to develop. Heads can take longer, two or more. I want feathers, not the parts that hold them. A: You can just pluck them to get them off and clean them. Use your hands as any tools may damage the quills. It will take a lot of time, so be patient. Feathers can be cleaned by immersing them in a mixture of five parts warm water, one part vinegar, and one part witch hazel. Let them soak for 24 hours. The astringents will assist in killing any potential feather mites and sanitizing the feathers. Remove and spread out flat on a towel to dry. A blow dryer can be used to expedite this process. Q: I’ve spotted a hawk, eagle, owl, or other predatory bird. A: Before claiming it, confirm that doing so is permitted in your nation or area of residence. Even if you’ve just found a single feather in the woods, it is unlawful to possess parts or feathers from migratory birds or birds of prey in the US and Canada without a special permit. If feathers or parts are discovered, there is a steep fine or possible jail term. What is the ideal temperature for parts preservation? A: Parts should be kept dry and stored indoors at room temperature. Avoid preserving outside as fluctuating humidity levels and high or low temperatures can cause the parts to freeze or absorb too much moisture. Does the species of bird I own have an impact on how it will be preserved? A: No, all birds will be preserved using the same technique. Q: I wish to hold onto a wing or foot so that I can adopt a specific posture. Can I do this? A: Sure, but to do this, you’ll need to attach the part with nails to a thin plywood or particle board piece, which will then need to be put inside the box with the cornmeal. Otherwise, since the muscles and tissues will naturally contract as the part dries, simply arranging it in the desired shape before covering it up won’t work. A: Other than cornmeal, what else can I use to preserve feathers? Borax and rock salt will also work, but Borax tends to form a crust on the severed ends and is very difficult to brush out of feathers completely due to its dustiness. There is a chance that salt will leave some mineral stains on the feathers. Q: I want to remove the feathers from a section that is already dry. Can I do this? A: It is very difficult to remove feathers from dry pieces without causing damage to them. Feather quills are essentially cemented into the skin as it shrinks and dries. To bring back the moisture in the skin, you can re-soak the area; however, doing so will cause permanent damage, so you shouldn’t dry it again. Will this technique work on rodents or other small animals? A: It will, but the final result may appear somewhat patchy and emaciated because fur does not have the same coverage as feathers. Now back to the instructable!.

Step 2: Tools & Materials

how to preserve a bird skeleton

A dead bird, protective gloves, an old shoebox (or other cardboard box; any size will work as long as it has a lid), a hacksaw (optional for larger birds), an X-Acto knife or box cutter, wire cutters, and a large bag of cornmeal are all necessary.

2. BLEACHING: This is completely optional and something I only do for aesthetic purposes. However, I would advise it if you want your bones to have that genuine patina of “something that died in the desert.” To get this result, you should immerse the bones in hydrogen peroxide. For several days, completely submerge the bones in the liquid, making sure to check on them every other day to make sure they’re not drying out.

What Do I do Once I’ve Found Some Bones? 1. MACERATION: The easiest way to remove soft tissue from bones is to cover them in room-temperature water and let them soak. Using a crockpot or boiling them will very likely damage the bones – I don’t recommend it. Maceration will be the smelliest part of the process. Do not attempt it in your home or in your lab – make sure you have a garage, museum facility or backyard that you can use, or you will react to your life choices with a predictable amount of despair. You’ll want to change the water every few days or so at the beginning of the process, and you’ll likely find a lot of grease and fat accumulating on the surface of the water that you can skim off. Once most of the flesh has started to dislodge, add a little bit of dish soap to the mix to help speed things along. The amount of time this will take varies from about a week to much longer, depending on how much soft tissue is left on your animal and how big it is.

4. DRYING PREPRED BONES: Using a peroxide bath after maceration Dry them in your refrigerator if you have a particularly understanding partner, roommate, or lab partner. This will lessen the possibility of the bones cracking by allowing them to dry gradually. I did this the summer before I headed out to the field, and in the unlikely event that my landlord happened to drop by, I left him a long note on my fridge [see the footnote above about coming off as a serial killer].

During my little free time, I enjoy preparing animal skeletons to be displayed throughout the house. With the implicit knowledge that nothing says “we’ve formed a deep emotional and intellectual bond” like sharing various and sundry bits of the same dead ungulate, I’ve previously given prepped bones to labmates as gifts. When I excitedly offered one of my friends a second deer pelvis, she told me that, as much as she loved me, she didn’t really want another one. Nevertheless, if you’re like me and you prefer a little more macabre decor for your home, I’ve laid out some basic steps to prepping faunal remains below. I realized that not everyone shares my enthusiasm.

Where can I find animal bones? Ask your archaeology faculty about it, have friends who hunt (I might land a fully articulated deer this fall), or befriend your local butcher (I recently did this and got an entire pig cranium, nailed it!). I’ve experienced this twice already: archaeologists are constantly searching for similar specimens and may gather animals that they don’t have enough time to examine that are available for the taking.


How do you clean and preserve bird bones?

Cover with a 50/50 mixture of hydrogen peroxide/hair developer and water. Make sure that the bones are fully submerged. Cover loosely with a lid and let sit for 24 hours. After 24 hours, check on your bones and if you are happy with the whiteness, rinse thoroughly and let dry.

How do you preserve a bird’s body?

Fill a ziplock bag with water, add your bird, and freeze it solid. Entombing it in a block of ice will protect feathers from unnatural bending and extremities from breaking. Perhaps most important, it keeps oxygen from pulling moisture out of the skin and feathers.

How do you preserve a bird’s skull?

Spray the skull with polyurethane to preserve it. Or, brush the skull all over with a mixture of 1 part white glue and 1 part water, or 1 part clear lacquer and 1 part lacquer thinner.

How do you preserve a skeleton?

Prepare a solution of hydrogen peroxide and water. Soak the bones in this solution for up to three days to bleach them. Glue the bones together using clear-drying glue. Spray the skeleton with several thin layers of polyurethane spray.