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The art of taxidermy online

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feathers again with corn meal. The meal is heaped upon
the wet feathers and beaten and pounded with a toothbrueh,
more meal being applied and the beating continued until the
feathers have again resumed their fluflBiness. This is a slow
and laborious process, and is only used in the field, where
all the appliances necessary for quickly and perfectly clean-
ing plumage are not available. Directions for this will be
found in a succeeding chapter. Should the shafts of any
of the wing or tail feathers be bent, if the bent feathers are
held in a jet of steam for a few seconds they will straighten
out perfectly, so long as the shaft is not actually broken.

A fluff of cotton batting is wound around the leg bone,
and the leg turned right side out.

The distal ends of the humeri are brought about as
close together inside the skin as they would be in life when
the wings are closed, and tied together with a thread.

A fluff of cotton batting is now wound about the end of
the knitting needle or stiff wire, the extreme tip being made
small and pointed, and the balance of the wad being shaped
by pressure to imitate roughly the body and neck of the bird.

The end of the wire with the cotton upon it is now
worked up inside the neck through the opening in the body
skin until the point of the wire is driven firmly up into the
throat and wedged between the mandibles. The body skin
is worked forward to reduce the length of the neck, and
the skin held up on the wire and the wings adjusted.
The skin is now laid upon its back and the wire withdrawn,
leaving the cotton filling, all in one piece, reaching from
between the mandibles to the base of the tail. Wooden

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toothpicks are used by some collectors in place of the wire,
the toothpick being left in the skin. If too much cotton
has been rolled up, a portion may be subtracted. If more
filling is required, more cotton may of course be added.
The skin should be well filled out and rendered plump,

Fig. 12.— "Making up" a Jay's Skin. Putting in tub Filling.

when the opening in the skin is sewed up with a few stitches.
A hard wound body should never be introduced into a bird
skin that is intended to remain in the shape of a skin, as,
if it is ever necessary to mount the specimen, it is a diflBcult
task to remove the filling.

If cotton is not at hand for filling, tow, excelsior, or
any dry, fibrous vegetable matter may be used. Animal
products, such as hair or wool, are better avoided.

Should the mandibles show a disposition to open, a stitch
may be taken through the nostril and the thread tied to-
gether underneath the bill. A pin is sometimes used for
this purpose.

The legs are crossed and lie flat upon the tail, which is
slightly spread.

A label bearing the number of the specimen is now at-
tached to the legs at their point of crossing and the skin is
ready for wrapping.

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A sheet of cotton batting (of as long fibre as is available,
Dennison's absorbent cotton being the best) is split by care-
fully drawing it apart until a thin sheet of cotton is ob-
tained large enough to envelop the skin. The feathers of
the breast are neatly arranged by lifting them up in bunches
with the thumb and finger and allowing them to drop back
into position. The bird skin is now laid, breast down, upon
the centre of the sheet of cotton, and the wings and feath-
ers of the back and tail arranged. . The cotton projecting
beyond the bill is brought up over and laid down upon
the head. The cotton at one side is served in the same
way, and then the other side is drawn up and allowed to
overlap on the other side. In this way the bird skin is
neatly enveloped in a thin sheet of cotton, through which
the shape of the skin can be perfected. This is by far the
best method of wrapping bird skins of this size. For largo
birds a sheet of stiff paper is used, the skin being laid upon
its back upon the centre of the sheet, and the sides brought
up over the breast and pinned together, thus keeping the
wings in place while drying. A piece of cheese cloth or
burlaps answers even better than paper, as paper materially
retards the drying out of the skin.

The skin is now laid away to' dry, resting upon its back
in one of the wooden trays from the collecting can.

The sex of' the bird is determined by cutting with the
scalpel through the ribs of one side in order to expose to
view the inside of the " small of the back."

If a male, two round, whitish-coloured bodies (whitish in
most birds) will be found bound in close to the bone. If a
female, a mass of small, whitish-coloured matter, the ovaries,
or in the breeding season the immature eggs themselves,
will be found in the same situation.

Among naturalists the sign of the planet Mars ( 6 ) is
used to designate a male, while the sign of Venus (?) an-
swers for the female.

The sex, date, locality, colours, and any further notes

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desired, are now written in the notebook, these data corre-
sponding with the number written on the label affixed to
the bird's legs. The label should always be firmly tied on a
specimen, and not loosely attached with a flimsy half -hitch,
ready to drop off at any moment.

Fio. 18. — Jay^s Skin oompletbd.

Calling a Woodpecker. — While at work on the jay a
loud, cackling note is heard, which we at once recognise as
that of the pileated woodpecker. Just what we want, as
his head must be skinned by a different process from that
used in preparing the jay. " Get the shotgun and a No. 8
shot-shell. He is a strong bird, and will require to be hit
pretty hard. Come, let's get in good range of that dead
stub, conceal ourselves well in the bushes, and call him
up." By clapping with the hands in imitation of the noise
produced by a woodpecker at work on a hollow stub, we at
once arouse his curiosity. He calls louder than ever. The
clapping is continued, and again the bird calls, this time
much nearer. "Now, look out — he will soon sail in!"
The irresistible clapping is still continued, and at last we
catch a glimpse of a black and white streak passing
through the trees, and before we are hardly aware of it ho
dips in and alights upon the dead stub we had selected
for him. He at once starts his call-note, but it is cut short
by the roar of the gun, and the grand bird falls fluttering
to the ground.*

* This method of calling woodpeckers was suggested to me by Mr.
Frank M. Chapman, Assistant Curator of the Department of Verte-
brate Zodlogy in the American Museum, and, if properly executed,
will almost invariably call up not only the pileated woodpecker, but
other species of woodpeckers as well.

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Examine the large head and small neck, and it will at
once be seen that the skull is much too large to be forced
through the neck in skinning without tearing the skin.
Therefore an opening is made with the scalpel along the
centre of the top of the head, reaching back a little past
the base of the skull. The skin is worked loose on top
of the skull with the end of the scalpel handle, the skull
disjointed at the base and cleaned as in the case of the
jay. After poisoning and filling, the edges of the open-
ing are brought together with needle and thread, and the
feathers adjusted. The wings, too, being larger than the
jay's, require different treatment. Instead of cleaning from
the inside by peeling the skin loose from the front of the
bone of the forearm, a longitudinal opening is made on
the under side of the wing from the first to the second
joints, and the sinews and muscles removed. The inside
of the wing is then thoroughly poisoned with alum and
arsenic, a little cotton or tow spread over the bones, and
the edges of the opening brought together with stitches.
In other respects the bird is treated precisely the same as
the jay.

Ducks and other water birds are better opened along
the back instead of on the belly, as it is often difficult to
make the breast feathers meet over the cut and properly
conceal it.

Afteb Beavers.

The next morning we decide to split up our party and
divide the scene of our labours. While one goes out on
the old lumber road and brings in a quarter or two of the
venison and afterward goes over the line of mouse traps,
the other two members of the party take a rifle and a batch
of heavy double-spring traps, jump into the canoe, and go
on a cruise for beaver, the signs of which were found on
the shore of the lake the first day. We will follow the

We shall of course be compelled to do more or less

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hunting to find the beaver dam, if one exists, which we are
by no means sure of.

Beaver, when much molested, will discard the old-time
way of living, and will simply dig a burrow in the bank like
a muskrat, and continue their existence there.

The canoe proceeds to the head of the lake, where a
stream puts in. There is also a long " dead-water," as it
is called ; that is, the stream gradually widens out on ap-
proaching the lake, flowing through flat, boggy ground,
and becomes so sluggish finally that it is difficult to tell
where the stream ends and the lake begins. A tributary
of the main stream comes in here, and we decide to follow
this up. As we paddle silently along, a small white stick
is noticed floating upon the water, and upon examination
proves to have been freshly cut and peeled by a beaver. As
we push up the stream we notice more of these peeled
sticks, and conclude that we are on the right track. As
we turn a bend in the stream we come fairly into view of
an old beaver house that has been reconstructed for the
coming winter. We at once paddle to it. The fresh supply
of branches brought together by the beavers for food, and
other signs, are evidence that the beavers are living here,
and we noiselessly proceed to lay our plans for their capture.
Going off to a safe distance from the beaver house, in order
that we may not disturb the inmates, a green spruce sap-
ling is cut, small enough at the base to allow the ring at
the end of the trap chain to slide easily back and forth.

The branches, except the ones at the top, are cut off
smoothly, and the butt end of the pole split and wedged so
that the ring encircling the pole can not be forced over.
We then paddle over silently to the beaver house, and, hav-
ing selected a landing place used by the beavers in climbing
upon the bank, with a sloping bottona running off into
deep water, we shove the end of the pole out into the deep
water and allow the top to rest against the bank at an
acute angle.

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The trap, already set, is placed under the water, just in
front of the landing place, where the beaver in going
ashore is likely to touch the pan and be caught by a
hind foot.

As soon as he finds himself caught the beaver will at
once make for deep water, and, in floundering about in his
struggles to escape, the ring on the end of the chain gradu-
ally slides down the pole, and soon the beaver is unable to
come to the surface of the water to breathe, and drowns.
We retire as noiselessly as we came, without having stepped
out of the canoe and in no way having disturbed the

We follow up the main stream, and, although we find
moose and caribou signs plentiful, there are no further
signs of beaver. We proceed down the lake to camp, and
find the third member of our party at work on the small
specimens he secured during the day.

A couple of days are now spent in collecting specimens
of both birds and small mammals. The line of traps is
gone over daily — sometimes twice — the game secured, and
the traps rebaited. Birds are shot and made into skins, and
notes on habits, etc., entered in the diary.

At last we find ourselves on the road to the bear trap,
fully equipped to skin and cut him up. But as we near the
coop we find the clog undisturbed, and at once know that
bruin has fooled us. Ah, the sly rascal ! See how he has
torn a hole in the side of the coop and stolen the bait with-
out entering from the front! The coop is not disturbed
by us. We simply shift the trap around to the opening
made by the bear and rebait the coop and retire.

The balance of the day is spent in collecting. A number
of deer are seen, but none secured. On the road to camp,
as we near the spot where our buck was dissected, we search
the ground and are rewarded by finding a fine red fox and
some Canada jays that have succumbed to our strychnine.
The next morning we conclude to visit the beaver trap,

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and all get into the canoe and paddle silently np the kke.
As we near the heaver house we see the hank has heen
scratched and worn in the yicinity of our trap, and know at
once that our heaver has heen caught. Yes, the trap is
gone from its position, and as we look down into the clear
water we see the heaver, completely suhmerged, drowned.

We lift him into the canoe, dripping with water, loosen
the trap from his hind foot, and reset the trap and paddle
off, congratulating ourselves upon our success.

We again resolve to paddle up the main " dead-water " to
look for moose or caribou, and, with guns ready, silently we
glide around the numerous crooks and turns of the stream.
Fresh signs of moose are plentiful, hut we reach the head
of canoe navigation without a sight of any game. As the
canoe grates upon the gravelly bottom of a sand bar and
finally comes to a dead stop, we involuntarily listen. We
have about made up our minds to return to camp, when a
steady splash! splash! is heard, as of some large animal
walking in the water. Our ears catch the direction, and we
look, eagerly expecting the animal to come in sight around
the bend of the stream. The splashing continues, and, to
our surprise, an enormous bull moose comes in sight, the
water dripping from his ill-shaped nose and mouth, and a
long piece of pond-lily root dangling down, upon one end
of which he is chewing.

As the animal comes in sight he stops, pricks up his
ears, and looks intently in our direction.

As the wind is drawing slowly toward the animal, we do
not hesitate to shoot. We draw the sights low down on his
shoulder and press the trigger. As the reports of the smooth
bore and rifle ring out simultaneously, the bull makes a
great leap and disappears into the bushes that fringe the

We hasten to the spot and find the tracks in the soft
moss. We follow them for a short distance and are finally
rewarded by a sight of blood upon the leaves. As we pro-

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ceed, the trail of blood is more easily followed, and here,
where the poor beast stood still for a short time, there is
quite a pool of clotted blood.

Evidently the animal is badly hurt, and we resolve to
return to the canoe and skin our beaver, and leave the
moose to succumb to his wounds, rather than to follow too
hastily and again start him while he has sufficient strength
to run.

Skinning a Beaver. — As we have neglected to bring our
tape with us, a straight branch is cut, one side is flattened
with the knife, and the measurements — the same as those
taken for the deer — marked off on the flattened and whitened
side of the stick, and the stick placed in the canoe. When
camp is reached we will measure and record the measure-
ments from the stick.

As the beaver is to be mounted in the same manner as the
ground squirrel — that is, by soft filling — it is skinned in prac-
tically the same manner, a description of which has already
been given. The feet, being larger, are split underneath,
on the sole of the foot from the junction of the middle toe
to the centre of the calcaneum, or heel, in the hind foot,
and from the middle toe to a short distance beyond the
wrist in the forefeet.

The feet are skinned down to the toe nails by inverting
the skin over the toes and cutting and pulling alternately
until the nail is reached, the webs between the toes being
separated or split during the process. The tail is also split
with the knife down the centre, on the under side, in its
entire length, in order to properly clean it, as the tail can
not be stripped as in the squirrel. The ears and lips are
treated precisely as in the buck. When camp is reached,
the skin, after having been salted and rolled up over night,
will require to be scraped inside with the skin scraper to
remove the fat, when the skin is again salted and rolled up
and left for another day. The skin is then shaken out,
painted on the flesh side with arsenical soap, partially dried,

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as in the deer skin, and finally rolled np and tied tightly
with twine. The skin and skull are then tagged, and are
ready to ship.

Trailing a Moose.

The skinning of the beaver having occupied some time,
we now proceed to take up the trail of the wounded moose.

There is the spot where we stopped following the tracks
and trail of blood. Although the moss has fluffed out some
in the tracks, and as a consequence these are not so distinct
as at first, still, with the aid of the blood spots, we have no
difficulty in keeping on the right track. Here is a spot
where the moose lay down to rest for a time, until the pain
from the wounds became too severe. And see this great
pool of clotted blood in the centre of the bed ! See where
he crashed through that pile of brush instead of going
around it I The spots of blood on the trail are now less and
less frequent, the blood having probably clotted and dried
over the wound and prevented its flow. As we continue to
follow on the trail a strange odour suddenly smites our nos-
trils, and we at once know that we are close to the animal.

Bull moose at this season have a strong odour, and if the
wind is right this may be detected for quite a distance.
We now proceed cautiously, with guns cocked and ready,
expecting the moose to jump at every step. There he lies
beside that moss-covered log. A closer inspection assures
us that another shot is unnecessary, as the beast lies prone
upon his side, dead.

As the fact dawns upon us that this huge beast is really
ours, the forest echoes with our yells of delight

And what a mighty pair of antlers! — and all secured
through the blindest luck.

We sit down upon a log and congratulate ourselves upon
our phenomenal luck.

An inspection of the wounds proves that the round ball
from the shotgun did the work. The .44-40 rifle ball sim-
ply struck the centre of the humerus, glanced, and came

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out at the chest, making only a flesh wound. The round
ball, aimed a trifle too high, had passed through the lungs
and out the other side, going clear through the body. Had
the ball gone a trifle lower, death would have been almost

Shinning a Bull Moose, — As this is by far too valuable
a skin to leave in the woods all night at the mercy of bears
and other carnivorous animals, we at once proceed to skin
the moose.

A straight road is " spotted " back to the canoe by one
member of the party, to facilitate carrying out the hide,
while the other members proceed with the skinning.

Measurements are taken as in the buck, the same open-
ing cuts made, and the body and limbs skinned out. The
neck is skinned in the usual way and disjointed where it
joins the skull, as in the case of the buck. We will not
skin the head until we .arrive at camp, as we wish to make
some photographs and a cast of the nose, to assist us in
modelling the nose on the manikin when we return to the

The skin, with the enormous skull and horns attached,
is tightly rolled up and lashed to the centre of a stout pole.
The carcass is disembowelled and left until the next day,
when some of our party return and rough out the limb
bones, pelvis, and shoulder blades, and take such portions
of the flesh as are required for camp use.

When ready to proceed to the canoe, the ends of the
pole are lifted upon the shoulders of two of the party, and
we start off. Our progress is slow owing to the great weight
of the skin and skull and the great spread of the antlers,
which persist in catching and becoming snagged in every
possible way in the brush.

Frequent rests are taken and many pet names indulged
in while on the way to the " dead-water." But as the work
must be done, and as we understood before starting on our
trip that much drudgery and hardship must be endured,

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we grit our teeth and proceed. At last, with a feeling of
relief, we reach the water and deposit our load in the centre
of the canoe and start for camp, where we arrive long after
darkness has set in.

Casting a Moose Nose, — The next morning we proceed
to take a cast in plaster of the moose nose.

A rude table is constructed and the moose head placed
upon it, and a number of photographs taken from different
points of view. The head is then turned over on its side
upon a bed of moss placed on the table and secured with
ropes to steady it.

Some of the tallow of the animal is melted in a small
frying pan and applied to the hair of the upper part of the
nose with the hand, and the hair smoothed down in order
to keep the plaster from sticking to and pulling it out.

Clay will answer for this purpose, but tallow is better, as
when cool it holds the hairs down wherever placed, and the
plaster also draws more freely from tallow than from clay.
When the nose, back as far as the eyes, has been thoroughly
greased over the upper half, damp sand from the beach is
gathered and, with a shoe knife, laid on the moss around
the nose, care being used to build up the sand so as not to
leave more than a lateral half of the nose above the sand.

When the sand is built up and smoothed down around
the whole nose, a wall of sand about half an inch in height
is built up, running across and over the face just in front
of the eye, to prevent the plaster from running upon the
ungreased hair and taking in more surface than we wish.

The dish-pan is now called into requisition, a bucket of
water brought from the lake, and a tin drinking cup bor-
rowed from the camp kit.

Water is poured into the dish-pan to the depth of about
an inch, and dry plaster — taken from the Agassiz tank with
the screw top, where it has kept perfectly dry — sprinkled in
until it rises in a cone about an inch high above the surface
of the water. With the hand the plaster is now thoroughly

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mixed, and should be of about the consistence of thin
cream. With the drinking cup the liquid plaster is ladled
out and poured over the greased surface of the nose, blow-
ing stoutly with the breath in order to destroy all " bridges "
or bubbles that may form. When all covered with a thin
layer of plaster, this is allowed to harden before applying
more, as a thick layer of soft plaster is apt by its weight to
sag and press the nose out of shape. What little plaster
remains in the dish-pan is thrown away and another batch
mixed up thicker than before, with a pinch of salt thrown
in to make it set more rapidly.

This batch is laid on the first coating evenly all over to
the depth of half an inch, and is allowed to remain until
set. When setting, plaster heats up. This is allowed to
occur, and then the whole head is turned upside down upon
the table without disturbing or removing the half mould
from the nose.

When the head is properly adjusted, and the shell of
plaster, now on the under side of the nose, lies well em-
bedded in the moss so that it will not break, the sand is
brushed away from the edges of the mould, and the edges
shaved and worked down smooth with the knife.

A few holes are cut with the knife on the upper sur-
face of the edges of the mould, large enough to admit the
end of the thumb, to act as "keys" for the projecting
knobs of the other half of the mould, when completed, to
set in.

The sand is carefully brushed from the hair on the
upper or exposed half of the nose, and the hair well
greased with hot tallow as before, this time greasing the
edges of the mould as well, to prevent the two halves of the
mould from sticking.

A wall of sand is built as before, running across the
face in front of the eye, the ends of the wall terminating

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Online LibraryJohn RowleyThe art of taxidermy → online text (page 4 of 19)